Wednesday 22 August 2018

Marta Fontanals-Simmons & Lorena Paz Nieto visit Spain in Oxford Lieder Festival's Grand Tour

Marta Fontanals-Simmons
Marta Fontanals-Simmons
This year's Oxford Lieder Festival (12 - 27 October 2018) is taking us on The Grand Tour - A European Journey in Song. Whilst the festival will be including familiar masterpieces of the song repertoire, they will be heard alongside music which displays a range of cultural influence, from Finland to Spain, from Estonia to Poland. There will be a day long event focusing on Scandinavian song, lunchtime recitals including Polish, Hungarian and Italian song. A series of short language labs will introduce some of the European languages used in the songs. For example, I welcome the chance to get more to grips with Estonian before Estonian mezzo-soprano Kai Rüütel's recital with Roger Vignoles on 17 October 2018.

A series of Spanish themed events on 18 October 2018 will be clustered around the evening recital by soprano Lorena Paz Nieto and mezzo-soprano Marta Fontanals-Simmons, accompanied by Sholto Kynoch, artistic director of the festival.

Lorena Paz Nieto is Spanish, whilst Marta Fontanals-Simmons is British/Catalan. When I met up with her recently, Marta explained that her father is from a small region near Barcelona, and so she speaks Spanish and some Catalan. Her recital with Lorena Paz Nieto will feature not only Spanish and Catalan songs but the music of other composers exploring the influence of Spain and the idea of Spain on European composers.
So there will be songs from Hugo Wolf's Spanisches Liederbuch (which uses German translations of Spanish and Portuguese poems and folk-songs), as well as less familiar songs by Niels Gade and Emil Sjögren setting the same text as one of the Wolf songs. French composers are represented by songs by Gounod, Delibes and Debussy (his Chanson Espagnole).

Sholto Kynoch
Sholto Kynoch
Another intriguing items is Shostakovich's Spanish Songs Op. 100 from 1956, which Marta is singing. Evidently a friend gave Shostakovich a collection of Spanish folksongs, hoping for something flamboyant, but Marta describes Shostakovich's songs as simple, very word-based; not fireworks but extremely beautiful. Marta adds that she is looking forward to exploring the songs.

Later on in our conversation, Marta comments on the Spanish influence on Russia which evidently arose partly because Russians fighting in the Spanish Civil War took Spanish orphans home with them. Marta finds that Spanish and Catalan music have a very deep connection to the heart, often simple and beautiful, and she feels this is something that Shostakovich captures, so the song cycle promises to be interestingly multi-layered. It is, of course, sung in Russian translations of the original Spanish texts.

Marta describes this first half of the recital as a respectful salute to the Spanish art form from Europe. The second half of their concert will feature songs by Spanish and Catalan composers, with music by Obradors, Granados, Toldrá and Rodrigo. Whilst Enrique Granados and Joaquin Rodrigo are relatively familiar names, Obradors and Toldrá are less so.

Lorena Paz Nieto
Lorena Paz Nieto
Fernando Obradors (1897-1945) was a Spanish composer who became conductor of the Gran Canaria Philharmonic Orchestra, and later taught at Las Palmas Conservatory. Eduard Toldrá (1895-1962) was a Spanish Catalan conductor and composer, and he played an important role in the culture of Barcelona, in 1944 he founded the Barcelona Symphony Orchestra at the Palau de la Música Catalana. Also in the recital is Judith Weir's Spanish Liederbooklet, a modern nod to Wolf's work written in 1988 and setting Spanish romances, by anonymous authors, from the 15th/16th centuries, sung in the original Spanish.

Marta is relishing the chance to sing Spanish, and she tries to include Spanish and Catalan song in her recitals as she finds it important to keep the tradition alive. Her father and his family were strongly Catalan, but during the Franco era Catalan language and culture were stripped away, and her father was so anti-Franco that he ultimately left Spain. Marta comments that Catalan musical culture was essentially and oral one and she finds Catalan music very human, and not elaborate.

Marta and Lorena's evening recital is part of a complete Spanish afternoon and evening at the Oxford Lieder Festival on 18 October 2018. Things start with an afternoon lecture by Carol Tully, A Literary Love Affair introducing Europe's love affair with the literature of Spain. At the early evening recital
violinist Sophie Rosa and pianist Sholto Kynoch perform music by Manuel de Falla, Pablo Sarasate and others,  then after the evening recital there is a Spanish wine tasting and the finally a late-evening Flamenco event.

Full details from the Oxford Lieder Festival website.

Elsewhere on this blog:
  • Songs of Farewell - BBC Singers and Sakari Oramo at the Proms (★★★★★)  - concert review
  • Bayreuth’s Tristan und Isolde was grand and convincing in every conceivable way harbouring a sting in its tail (★★★★★)  - concert review
  • Keeping her secrets: Tom Randle's Love Me To Death explores the mysterious Ruth Ellis (★★★★)  - Opera review
  • The Opera That Goes Wrong: Tête à Tête's Toscatastrophe!  - Opera review
  • Bayreuth’s Parsifal provided a sensitive portrayal of humanity overcoming adversity (★★★★★)  - Opera review
  • As important as ever: Opera Rara's mission to rediscover, record and perform rare opera  - interview
  • Hubert Parry - the complete string quartets (★★★)  - CD review
  • Out of the mouths of babes: Metta Theatre at Tête à Tête (★★★)  - Opera review
  • if there were water - Two different, yet challenging contemporary choral pieces in this striking disc from the American choir, The Crossing (★★★★) - CD review
  • Bayreuth’s new production of Lohengrin has taken the Green Hill by storm (★★★★★) - opera review
  • Exploring advanced techniques: flautist Sara Minelli's New Resonances (★★★)   - CD review
  • Leaving on a high: final revival of Jan Philipp Gloger's production of Wagner’s Der fliegende Holländer at the Bayreuth Festival  (★★★★★)  - Opera review
  • Prom 42: the first Estonian orchestra at the Proms - Paavo Järvi and the Estonian Festival Orchestra (★★★★½)  - concert review
  • A strong message on anti-semitism: Wagner’s Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg at the Bayreuth Festival  (★★★★★) - opera review
  • Home

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