Sunday 12 November 2017

'The quintessence of German Romanticism' - Schumann's Liederkreis from Ailish Tynan & James Newby

James Newby (Photo Ben Mckee)
James Newby (Photo Ben Mckee)
Schumann Liederkreis Op.24 & 39; Ailish Tynan, James Newby, Nigel Foster; London Song Festival at Hinde Street Methodist Church
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Nov 10 2017 Star rating: 4.5
Vivid story-telling in performances of two of Schumann's great song cycles

Pianist Nigel Foster's London Song Festival is celebrating its 10th anniversary with the biggest festival yet, Circles, Cycles and Revolutions. We caught up with the festival on Friday 10 November 2017 at Hinde Street Methodist Church when Nigel Foster accompanied soprano Ailish Tynan and baritone James Newby (winner of the 2016 Kathleen Ferrier Award) in an all Schumann programme, Die beiden Grenadiere, Der arme Peter, Liederkreis Op.39 (setting Eichendorff) and Liederkreis Op.24 (setting Heine), all the songs written in Schumann's amazing song year of 1840.

The programme opened with James Newby singing a group of Heine settings. Die beiden Grenadiere is a lyric ballad about two returning French veterans distressed at the French defeat and capture of the Emperor. Newby captured the sense of storytelling in the narrative building to a fine climax which is then punctured by Schumann's downbeat postlude. Newby's voice as dark and nicely vibrant. A highly communicative singer, he is visually expressive as well as colouring the words but a tendency to hide behind the music stand rather muted communications with his audience.

Ailish Tynan
Ailish Tynan
Die arme Peter is a short, three-song cycle about a young man whose sweetheart marries someone else. The first song, with its delightful hurdy-gurdy in the piano, moved into a darker mood as attention turned from the wedding to poor Peter. Newby and Foster traced the downward arc of the cycle from her, to Peter's demise, Newby growing in intensity and drawing us into the story.

Ailish Tynan then sang the Liederkreis Op.39 setting poems by Eichendorff. There is no storyline, and Roger Vignoles called this cycle 'the quintessence of German Romanticism - all the stuff you think of: forests and hunting horns and castles on the Rhine', and of course Die hexe Loreley. Ailish Tynan and Nigel Foster took a story-telling approach to the cycle, giving each song its own particular dramatic atmosphere. Tynan, perhaps I should say, held her music in her hand allowing little to come between her and her audience. She is a born story-teller, giving each song the right combination of line and text. So 'In der Fremde' started off in sombre mood with impetuous joy in 'Intermezzo'. The vivid narrative of 'Waldesgespräch' was really brought alive, and her incarnation of Loreley at the end mesmerising.

'Die Stille' was quietly confiding, then in 'Mondnacht' Foster played the lovely clear piano introduction and Tynan's voice simply floated to join him. 'Schöne Fremde' was again impetuous, pushing forward, and the performance captured the strange atmosphere of 'Auf einer Burg' with its oddly up in the air postlude. Words tumbled over each other in 'In der Fremde' but Schumann's sombre postlude cast a different light on the song. The lyric sadness of 'Wehmut' led to the magical piano prelude to 'Zwielicht', Tynan sang the song with quiet intensity yet bringing out the complex concepts in the second half. 'Im Walde' opened with joy, yet the wedding disappeared, leaving an intense loneliness. Finally the impulsive, vivid excitement of 'Frühlingsnacht'.

After the interval Newby returned for the Heine Liederkreis. Though he still used a music stand, it was less of a defence and he allowed himself better visual communication with his audience. Perhaps it helped that Newby seemed to bring a very intense personal identification with the songs. He wasn't so much telling a story as conveying a personal emotional narrative from the lyric melancholy of the first song to the welter of conflicting emotions in the final one.

The second song 'Es treibt mich hin' was a vivid vignette, but Newby and Foster made the transition between songs seem a continuous emotional journey. 'Ich wandelte under den Bäumen' was quiet and intense yet beautiful, with the postlude reflecting the darker mood of the final verse. 'Lieb Liebchen' was again intense, the emotions highly dramatised, whereas in 'Schöne Wiege' the lyric melancholy of the song occasionally exploded into drama. 'Warte, warte wilder Schiffmann' was vibrant, and vivid drama, whilst 'Berg' und Burgen' was very much the calm after the storm. here Schuman's strophic setting blurred the bitterness of Heine's final verse, though Newby made the words really count here. The short and melancholic eighth song led to the complex final number. No easy resolution, this was full of conflicting emotions.

As ever, the programme was accompanied by an excellent programme book full of Nigel Foster's extensive and informative notes about the songs.

The festival continues on Friday 17 November with Anna Huntley, Ashley Riches and Nigel Foster in the first ever song-cycle; Beethoven’s An die Ferne Geliebte, and other songs about distant, doomed or impossible love. Then on Saturday 18 November, Simon Wallfisch and Nigel Foster perform Schubert's Winterreise interspersed with nterspersed with readings from the diary of Derek Jarman, charting his winter journey from his diagnosis as HIV positive in 1986 to his death from AIDS in 1994.

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