Tuesday 16 June 2015

The eyes have it - Lied in London, further explorations with surtitles.

Johnny Herford
Johnny Herford
Last night (15 June 2015) we went along to one of pianist Gary Matthewman's Lied in London recitals. Gary Matthewman accompanied baritone Johnny Herford in a programme of songs by Schubert, Carl Nielsen, Hugo Wolf and George Butterworth. Perhaps the most notable thing about the evening, over and above the superb performances, was the fact that Gary Matthewman continued his experiments with using surtitles instead of giving the audience printed word sheets.

The advantage of this, from the performers' point of view, is that the audience is actually looking at the performers rather than having their heads buried in the printed copies. The surtitles were projected on the wall above the singer's head so that we could take in both the text and Johnny Herford's facial expressions.

Gary Mattheman © Johan Persson
Gary Mattheman
© Johan Persson
And there was a lot to take in. Johnny Herford's performances were not at all operatic, but he used his face and eyes a great deal to enliven and characterise the songs. He has a lovely flexible lyric baritone with a fine sense of line, allied to great diction, so that the German lied really did sound like sung poetry. Rather impressively the four Nielsen songs in Danish were sung from memory, as was the whole programme, which certainly aids communications. Chatting to Johnny afterwards I gather the Nielsen songs took a 'disproportionate' amount of rehearsal time, but it was worth it to hear them in the original. For the English songs, we did not have surtitles and certainly did not need them.

The first group was all Schubert, with the long Waldes-Nacht at the centre of a group consisting of Auf dem See; Wandrers Nachtlied I; Das Fischermädchen; Dass sie hier gewesen!; Waldes-Nacht; Im Abendrot; Lachen und Weinen; An die Musik; Die Taubenpost; Wandrers Nachtlied II. Thus giving us a variety of moods and durations, with some profoundly beautiful moments. Johnny Herford and Gary Matthewman's control of structure was superb in the long Waldes-Nacht and throughout performances were finely involving and superbly crafted.

The Nielsen songs were from Vise og vers Op 6, one of his early song sets. Here the two performed Genrebillede; Seraferne; Silkesko over gylden Læst!; Vise af „Mogens”. They are varied and charming songs, disarmingly sung in performances which made us want to get to know more.

After the interval we had a sequence of Eichendorff settings by Hugo Wolf, all about the various different trials of love, Erwartung; Das Ständchen; Der Scholar; Nachtzauber; Liebesglück; Der Soldat I; Unfall; Seemanns Abschied. Not all were well known, and both performers brought out the remarkable complexity and modernism of Wolf's sound-world in vividly characterised performances.

Finally we had George Butterworth's Six Songs from A Shropshire Lad - Loveliest of trees; When I was one-and-twenty; Look not in my eyes; Think no more, lad; The lads in their hundreds; Is my team ploughing? Where Johnny Herford showed that the same virtues which had shone through in the Schubert, applied in English too. A finely burnished vocal line with highly expressive words, these were poignantly moving songs. We finished with an extra, RVW's Silent Noon.

1 comment:

  1. I should have probably added that I found the surtitles a total success


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