Tuesday 7 March 2017

Tara Erraught at Rosenblatt Recitals

Tara Erraught
Louis Spohr, Franz Lachner, Schubert, Mozart, Rossini; Tara Erraught, Ulrich Pluta, James Bailieu; Rosenblatt Recitals at the Wigmore Hall
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Mar 6 2017
Star rating: 5.0

An imaginative and engaging programme gave us the opportunity to hear the Irish mezzo-soprano in a wide range of repertoire

The Irish mezzo-soprano Tara Erraught brought an imaginative programme to the Wigmore Hall for her Rosenblatt Recital on Monday 6 March 2017. Joined by pianist James Baillieu and clarinettist Ulrich Pluta, the first half of the programme consisted of 19th century German music for voice, clarinet and piano with three of Louis Spohr's Sechs deutsche Lieder, Op. 103, Franz Lachner's Auf Flugeln des Gesanges and Seit ich ihn gesehen, and Schubert's Der Hirt auf dem Felsen. The second half reflected Erraught's operatic roles, with Sifare's aria 'Soffre il mio cor con pace' from Mozart's Mitridato, Re di Ponto,  Cherubino's 'Voi che sapete' from Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro, Rosina's 'Ah se e ver' from Rossini's Il barbiere di Sivigla (an aria Rossini added for a performance of the opera in 1819), and Rossini's cantata Giovanna d'Arco. Ulrich Pluta returned to the platform for the first encore, when he joined Erraught and Baillieu in a performance of Sesto's 'Parto, parto' from Mozart's La Clemenza di Tito.

Tara Erraught sang the entire programme from memory, and her performance was notable for her highly communicative manner, creating a sense of character in each of the items and conveying a real feeling of engagement, enjoyment and enthusiasm. Singing with a beautifully modulated and bright toned mezzo-soprano, there was a freshness to her lieder performances in the first half, which made even the more routine items seem something special. She is clearly a great story-teller, and in the second half introduced each of the arias.

Louis Spohr (1784-1859) was regarded as a major composer during his lifetime, though subsequently his reputation has been eclipsed by his contemporaries. His Sechs deutsche Lieder were written in 1838, and Spohr included a clarinet to heighten the expressiveness of the piecesl the clarinet part is very much an obbligato, embellishing and commenting on the soprano part, and adding bravura element missing in the vocal writing. In 'Zwiegesang' Ulrich Pluta's clarinet gave us delightful birdsong, decorating and intertwining with Erraught's charming vocal line. 'Das heimliche Lied' was somewhat more dramatic, structured more like a recitative and aria with the clarinet weaving in and out of the voice. 'Wach auf!' was surprisingly dance-like given the subject matter, 'Why do you stand there brooding with fear?', again with a decorative clarinet part which really made the song something special. Even though Spohr's vocal writing inclined to the conventional, in all three songs Erraught's performance really made the music special,

Franz Lachner (1803-1890) was a friend of Schubert, but living 60 years longer and becoming general music director at Munich. He is best known today for the version of Cherubini's Medea with sung recitative instead of spoken dialogue. Auf Flugeln des Gesanges set the same Heine text as Mendelssohn's more famous piece. There was a long and elaborate clarinet introduction, and thereafter the clarinet provided interesting interludes between the more conventional vocal writing of the verses, the two only joining together towards the end of the piece when Lachner introduced a greater element of drama. Erraught gave a delightful performance which brought out the great charms of a relatively conventional piece. Lachner's Seit ich ihn gesehen comes from Adalbert von Chamisso's cycle of poems which Schumann set in Frauenliebe und -leben. Lachner's setting was again rather conventional, yet not without its charms in the way that Lachner made the singer's emotions nicely ardent, and it received a vivid performance from Erraught, Baillieu and Pluta.

Schubert's Der Hrrt auf dem Felsen (written in 1830) is of course far more familiar, but it was interesting to hear it performed in the context of other works from the 1830s for the same combination of performers. The song was commissioned by the soprano who had sung the title role in all three versions of Beethoven's opera (variously Leonore and Fidelio), she was clearly a remarkable singer. Erraught brought a lightness to her performance, displaying a lovely even tone with a beautifully expressive legato line. The faster passagework was well shaped, and she brought both style and technique to the fireworks of the final section, only occasionally the top of her voice sounded slightly pressured. But overall this was a really enjoyable performance, sung with an engaging freshness.

The second half opened with Sifare's Act One aria, 'Soffre il mio cor con pace' from Mozart's early opera seria (he was 14 when he wrote it), Mitridate Re di Ponto. Accompanied with crisp stylishness by James Baillieu, Tara Erraught sang with superbly firm and even tone, whilst making the elaborate passagework truly spectacular. She brought a real sense of character to her ardent performance of Cherubino's 'Voi che sapete' from Le nozze di Figaro, making the performance quietly stylish too. With the performance of these arias in the second half, we realised quite how little we hear Erraught in the UK. She is based at the Bavarian State Opera and it is great shame that we have little opportunity to hear hear in Mozart and Rossini here (here most recent UK role was Octavian in Glyndebourne's production of Strauss's Der Rosenkavalier).

For Rosina from Rossini's Il barbiere di Sivigla, Erraught gave us not the familiar aria but one inserted by Rossini for a later performance. 'Ah se e ver' ('L'innocenza di Lindoro') sees Rosina worrying whether Lindoro is true and faithful. Erraught sang with great style and superb control, the ornamental passagework was again spectacular but there was a real sense of character and emotion in the piece too.

For the last official piece on the programme we had Rossini's 1834 cantata Giovanna d'Arco, a sequence of two arias and recitative in which the doomed maid reflects on her love of country and of family. After a dramatic and dark-toned piano introduction (Rossini wrote the piece with piano accompaniment), Erraught made the recitative rather intense leading to the affecting cavatina, 'O mio Madre' albeit with some fine marital moments too. A second dramatic recitative led to the final aria which was spectacular and vehement, with a final more lyrical section which became more elaborate towards the brilliant finale. Erraught and Baillieu brought out all the works changes of mood and character in a vividly engaging performance.

For her first encore, Tara Erraught gave us something very substantial, she was joined by Ulrich Pluta and James Baillieu for Sesto's 'Parto, parto' from La clemenza di Tito, Mozart's final opera seria. Supported by Pluta's very fine clarinet playing, Erraught brought character and drama to the piece, yet sang with fine style with many tender and intimate moments. We were treated to two further encores, Long, long ago in the woods of Gornamona and Aaron Copland's Long time ago.

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