Monday 20 March 2017

Surrender to the madness: Patricia Petibon and Susan Manoff at Wigmore Hall

Patricia Petibon & Susan Manoff
Patricia Petibon & Susan Manoff
Barber, Britten, Bacri, de Falla, Rodrigo, Obradors, Villa-Lobos, Bridge Poulenc, Collet, Semos & Stanton, Mignone, Granados, Turina, Guastavino, Lara, Churchill, Glanzberg; Patricia Petibon, Susan Manoff; Wigmore Hall
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Mar 18 2017
Star rating: 4.0

Not an ordinary recital, a vein of theatricality and manic humour ran alongside serious intent in this Spanish-themed evening from French soprano Patricia Petibon

To call the evening at the Wigmore Hall with soprano Patricia Petibon and pianist Susan Manoff, on Saturday 18 March 2017, a simple song recital would be something of a misnomer, this was a richly theatrical event with each item receiving a carefully choreographed presentation which at times verged on pure cabaret and seemed to break the bounds of the possible in the sober halls of Wigmore Street.

Petibon and Manoff's programme gives some idea, it was highly eclectic with Poulenc's Sanglots sitting cheek by jowl with a Seguidilla by Henri Collet, Murray Semos and Frank Stanton's song Busy Line and the pure Carmen Miranda of Francisco Mignon's Dona Janaina. Spain and the evocation of Spain was a theme running through the evening, as was the idea of different aspects of love, but this did not preclude Petibon starting with Samuel Barber's Sure on this shining night and Benjamin Britten's arrangement of Greensleeves and ending with Norbert Glanzberg's Padam Padam, made famous by Piaf, and an version of Frank Churchill's Someday my prince will come (from Disney's Snow White) which went beyond arrangement into a complete comic scena which you could either find truly bizarre or simply surrender to the glorious madness.

Both the Barber and the Britten arrangement were sung in creditable English, the Barber was performed quite straight and very evocatively though this highlighted another Petibon particularity, her tendency to croon quieter numbers. The result was affecting but very distinct and particular. For no particular reason, she put on a small crown for Greensleeves.

There followed a group of Spanish songs, the highly plangent and very striking A la mar by Nicolas Bacri, which was written for Petibon, a strongly characterised version of 'El pano moruno' from Manuel de Falla's Siete canciones populares espanoles which almost danced, and where Petibon displayed surprisingly rich dark tones, the quietly seductive Cancion del grumete by Joaquin Rodrigo and a pair of vibrantly characterful songs by Fernando Obradors, El Vito and Chiquitita la novia. The mood continued with Heitor Villa-Lobos's Nesta rua which seemed to combine Brazilian folk-influences with jazz and which had Petibon crooning evocatively.

The piano solo Frank Bridge's Winter Pastoral was given a performance of simple intensity by Susan Manoff which came as a stunning pause in the programme. This was followed by Francis Poulenc's 'Sanglots' from the song cycle Banalites. 'Sanglots' was given such a seriously intent and powerful performance by Petibon and Manoff that I wished we could have had the whole cycle.

Instead what followed was another piano solo, Henri Collet's highly Iberian evocation in Seguidilla, and then Murray Semos and Frank Stanton's Busy Line, a hit of the post-war swing era in 1949. This was preceded by a hugely complex comic skit which was great fun and seemed to take the recital deeply into the realms of physical comedy. The first half ended with pure Carmen Miranda as Petibon complete with head dress (no pineapple alas) and maraccas, sang Francisco Mignone's completely delightful Dona Janaina.

The second half opened with another Spanish group. First Spain by a Frenchman, Henri Collet's striking Camina Don Sancho, and then a surprisingly powerful performance of Enrique Granados' El mirar de la maja. Joaquin Turina's folk-inspired Cantares received a deeply felt performance, and La rosa y el sauce by the Argentinian composer Carlos Guastavino was very affecting and deeply romantic. Finally, Agustin Lara's Granada, which needs no introduction but benefited from a performance by Petibon and Manoff which took the song completely serious with no undermining irony.

Francis Poulenc's charming Novelette sur un theme de Manuel de Falla formed a pause before the climax of the evening, the jazz violinist Didier Lockwood's arrangement of Frank Churchill's Some day my prince will come from the Disney film Snow White. This Petibon and Manoff turned into an extended comic musical scene which told the entire story of the film in a manner which showed the very particular, rather off the wall nature of Petibon's sense of humour. All you could do was surrender to the madness, and when we finally reached the song it was given in a wonderfully crooned late-night jazz version.

Finally, we had Padam Padam the 1948 song by Norbert Glanzberg which was a great success for Edith Piaff. The reaction of the audience was strongly positive and very vocal, and we were treated to a single encore, a further Manuel de Falla song.

With her red hair and pale skin, Patricia Petibon could be the Ice Queen but clearly a vein of zaniness runs through her too. Aided and abetted by Susan Manoff's fine pianism and more, this was a wonderful attempt to reinvent the song recital genre. Not everything worked, but there was a true theatricality to Petibon's ideas and the evening formed a welcome antidote to the stuffier side of the song recital genre.

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1 comment:

  1. So wonderful to see a detailed review of this amazing concert, and I agree with every word - thank you! I have loved Petibon for a long time but have never seen her perform live - I took my eighteen year old daughter with me and both of us gave ourselves over to the sheer madness of it. I have been ruminating on how it is possible to feel both manipulated (in a not entirely comfortable way) and won over by a performer. Petibon achieved this and it is clear that she is intent on pushing the boundaries of the song recital as far as it is possible to do so. I agree that the quieter, more serious numbers were delivered very powerfully - Sanglots was beautiful, as was the Guastavino. Susan Manoff was perfect in every way and I am looking forward to hearing her again, performing with Veronique Gens in May.


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