Monday, 19 March 2018

The lure of the East: Soraya Mafi's debut recital at the Wigmore Hall

Soraya Mafi
The Lure of the East, Schubert, Schumann, Wolf, Strauss, Bizet, Fauré, Saint-Saëns, Roussell, Sullivan, Coward; Soraya Mafi, Graham Johnson; Wigmore Hall
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 18 Mar 2018 Star rating: 4.0
An engaging debut recital from this promising young soprano

Soraya Mafi, whom we saw recently as Titania in Britten's A Midsummer Night's Dream at English National Opera [see my review], made her Wigmore Hall solo recital debut on Sunday 18 March 2018 with a programme which referenced her Iranian heritage. Accompanied by Graham Johnson, she took Gabriel Fauré's Les roses d'Ispahan as the centrepiece of a programme entitled The Lure of the East, looking at the way different composers had written about the Easte from Schumann, Richard Strauss, Wolf and Schubert, to Bizet, Faure, Saint-Saëns and Roussel, and ending with Gilbert & Sullivan and Noel Coward.

We started with Byron's Hebrew Melodies with a contained account of Schumann's Aus den hebräischen Gesängen Op. 25, intense and bleak but remarkably concentrated. The Three Kings followed with Richard Strauss's rather unusual Die heiligen drei Könige aus Morgenland Op. 56 No. 6 with its radiant piano postlude. Mafi drew out the narrative character of the piece, really telling us a story and this continued with Wolf's highly characterful Epiphanias where Mafi's lively personality shone through.


We next moved to Goethe, with many poems from his West–östlicher Divan. Suleika cropped up a lot, with Schubert's highly contrasting Suleika I & II, and then Schumann's Suleika's Song. Mafi showed a real willingness to sing quietly and use varied, often fragile tone, for expressive purposes. She was also adept at conveying emotions with small gestures, both visual and aural, and always with a sense of narrative.

Wolf's Als ich auf dem Euphrat schiffte and Hochbeglückt in deiner Liebe both set Goethe in exotic mode. The first was quietly intense with a mesmerising end, whilst the second was more romantic with its rather dramatic piano writing. Mafi's voice does not have the amplitude of some bigger voices, but she amply conveyed a wide range of emotions.

Next followed the French group. Bizet's Adieux de l’hôtesse arabe Op. 21 No. 4 is perhaps his best-known song. Her she sang with fragile, yet seductive, tone and a clear sense of character with Johnson's swaying rhythms in the piano contributing to the sense of character. Both brought real emotion to the piece, beneath the classic trope. Fauré's Les roses d'Ispahan was sung with a beautiful supple line; Mafi showed real sympathy with the piece, she and Johnson gave a finely subtle performance. There was little that was subtle about the next song, Saint-Saëns's opium-dream-inspired Tournoiement . a vivid tour-de-force as both voice and piano describe the spinning and turning arising from opium delirium. The French group finished on a calmer note with Albert Roussel's Réponse d’une épouse sage , combining exotic hints in the piano with a simple dignified vocal line which Mafi enlivened with telling little gestures.

We finished with a pair of English songs, providing a somewhat lighter view of the subject. First The Sun Whose Rays from Gilbert and Sullivan's The Mikado in a performance which made the piece seem far more quiet and subtle than it can in the theatre. Mafi gave a poised and known account of Yum-Yum's solo, with beautifully subtle piano playing from Johnson. And then the complete delight of Noel Coward's Mad dogs and Englishmen.

The audience was rightly most enthusiastic and we were rewarded with an encore, a further English song but one this time referencing Soraya Mafi's other heritage (she is half Iranian and half Irish), Britten's arrangement of The Last Rose of Summer.

Elsewhere on this blog:
  •  Rakastava: the music of Sibelius from Chamber Domaine  (★★★½) - CD review
  • Tradition and innovation: I chat to Hugo Ticciati, violinist and artistic director of O/Modernt - interview
  • Daniel Kramer's new production of Verdi's La traviata at ENO (★★★)  - Opera review
  • Ceremonial Oxford: music for the Georgian university by William Hayes  (★★★½) - CD review
  • Multi-faceted diva: Bampton Classical Opera's Songs for Nancy (★★★½) - Concert review
  • Consume thoughtfully: Niccolò Porpora's cantatas for the Prince of Wales (★★★½)  - CD review
  • .... Into the deepest sea: from Brahms to Bridge in this recital from Sarah soprano Wegener (★★★½) - CD review
  • A terrific achievement: Handel's Giulio Cesare from Bury Court Opera (★★★★) - opera review
  • Laurence Cummings on the London Handel Festival, Stravinsky, opera, time-travel and more - interview
  • Musicological melange, creative entertainment: Carmen at the Royal Opera House (★★★) - opera review
  • Hard-hitting yet transcendent: Janacek's From the House of the Dead (★★★★) - CD review
  • My last Duchess: the songs of Grace Williams from Jeremy Huw Williams (★★★½) - CD review
  • Remarkable dialogues - Poulenc's opera at the Guildhall - Opera review
  • Goldilocks translated: The Opera Story's latest production (★★★★) - opera review
  • Contrasting double: Puccini's Il tabarro & Gianni Schicchi from ETO (★★★★½) - opera review
  • Home

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