Friday 23 November 2018

Long Time Ago

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Long Time Ago: Grainger, Britten, Faure, Grieg, Ireland, Mahler, Brahms, Canteloube, Dvorak, Schumann, Schubert, Copland, Sibelius, Rebecca Clarke, James MacMillan, RVW, Henry Bishop; Elin Pritchard, Olivia Warburton, Nicky Spence, Gareth Brynmor John, Jâms Coleman, Christopher Glynn; Samling Institute for Young Artists at the Wigmore Hall Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 21 November 2018 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
An engaging showcase with an eclectic mix of song

The Samling Showcase at the Wigmore Hall on Wednesday 21 November 2018 was intended to showcase the talents of various generations of young artists from the newly renamed Samling Institute for Young Artists. Unfortunately illness prevented James Newby (Samling Artist 2017), so soprano Elin Pritchard (Samling Artist 2011), mezzo-soprano Olivia Warburton (Samling Artist 2017) and tenor Nicky Spence (Samling Artist 2006) were joined at short notice by baritone Gareth Brynmor John, with pianists Jâms Coleman (Samling Artist 2015) and Christopher Glynn sharing the accompaniment honours. Actor Alex Jennings provided readings to punctuate the evening.

The title of the evening was Long Time Ago, and the programme loosely explored music inspired by folklore, with songs by Percy Grainger, Benjamin Britten, Gabriel Faure, Edvard Grieg, John Ireland, Gustav Mahler, Johannes Brahms, Joseph Canteloube, Antonin Dvorak, Robert Schumann, Franz Schubert, Aaron Copland, Jean Sibelius, Rebecca Clarke, James MacMillan, RVW and Henry Bishop, divided into roughly thematic groups. Though we gradually learned that the title of the groups did not always quite mean what they said.

So that the opening group I'll sing you a song about two lovers (songs accompanied by Jâms Coleman) certainly did not deal with straightforward true love. We opened with Percy Grainger's wonderful ballad Bold William Taylor, a real tale of 'girl-power' as a young woman dresses as a soldier, goes to find her sweetheart and then shoots him dead on finding him married to someone else. Sung by Nicky Spence with a delightful sense of narrative (and actions too), this was real story telling in music. Gareth Brynmor John then gave a beautifully produced account of Britten's Down by the Sally Gardens, bringing out the underlying melancholy of this tale of unrequited love. Faure's Levati sol was a big surprise, an Italian version of Apres un Reve which may possibly be Faure's original. Whatever, Elin Pritchard sang with a lovely rich lyric sound, making the song really mean something. This group finished with a profoundly thoughtful account of Grieg's Solveig's Song from Olivia Warburton.

Where the beautiful trumpets play (songs accompanied by Christopher Glynn) started with Gareth Brynmor John in John Ireland's Blow Out, You Bugle which, despite some wonderfully rich climaxes, ended on a dying fall. Mahler's Wo die schonen Trumpeten blasen (from Des Knaben Wunderhorn) was arranged as a trio, with Elin Pritchard as the girl, Gareth John as the boy, and Nicky Spence as the narrator and this worked well bringing an extra element to the narrative and heightening the drama's mysterious aura. And Christopher Glynn brought lovely colour and character to the piano part.

The Pledge of Love (songs accompanied by Christopher Glynn) seemed to give us tales where true love fails in some way. Mahler's Rheinledgendchen was a folk-ish piece from Des Knaben Wunderhorn with Nicky Spence giving us a rather pointed narrative. Gareth Brynmor John gave Brahms' Wie bist du, mein Konigin a sense of elegiac melancholy, with finely shaped phrases, whilst Olivia Warburton sang Brahms Da unten in Tale with beautifully modulated tones and a lovely sense of storytelling. Elin Pritchard was delightfully captivating in Canteloube's Malurous qu'o uno fenno whilst Pritchard and Warburton joined forces for Dvorak's The Pledge of Love, one of his Opus 32 Moravian duets which are the delightful vocal equivalents of the Slavonic Dances. The group ended with another duet, this time Nicky Spence and Gareth Brynmor John in a delightfully characterful account of Schumann's Blau Augen hat das Madchen.

The second half opened with When Life Grows Dark (songs accompanied by Jâms Coleman) which seemed to be about the interaction of humans with the mysterious.  Schubert's Erlkonig was sung by all four singers, with Gareth Brynmor John as the father, Olivia Warburton as the child, Nicky Spence as the narrator and Erl King, and Elin Pritchard singing the final verse. It was an interesting experiment, but though there were some powerful moments the splitting of the song into parts seemed to diffuse things somehow. Two arrangements followed, Olivia Warburton made Aaron Copland's version of The little horse enchanting, with its delightful horse descriptions and Nicky Spence brought a serious intent to Britten's arrangement of Tom Bowling. Jean Sibelius' The girl came from her lover's tryst was fascinating, starting with a powerful piano part and vocal line which was rather free arioso, and only towards the end did the music coalesce into a more formal structure. Elin Pritchard enjoyed the freedom and made the final verses really powerful. This section ended with Rebecca Clarke's intriguing The Seal Man setting John Masefield. It was very spare, with Clarke's piano part hardly existing at ties, and finely atmospheric in a riveting performance from Warburton and Coleman.

Home sweet home (songs accompanied by Christopher Glynn) was decidedly not that, with the homes being unattainable or mysterious. Elin Pritchard brought alive a rather careful account of Britten's arrangement of The Ash Grove when she sang the second verse in Welsh. Nicky Spence gave a highly concentrated account of James MacMillan's William Soutar setting Scots Song with Spence really relishing the Scots language. MacMillan's accompaniment was barely there, and the result was effective and affecting. Gareth Brynmor John gave a darkly powerful account of 'Whither must I wander' from RVW's Songs of Travel, bringing out the song's elegiac melancholy, whilst Olivia Warburton made the traditional Irish song Kitty My Love a real delight. We finished with all four singers in an arrangement of Henry Bishop's Home Sweet Home.

But there was an encore when the four singers were joined by both pianists for Aaron Copland's Long Time Ago.

Showcase recitals do not always work as a coherent entity, but the theme of this evening was strong enough to bind the programme together yet loose enough to allow the four singers to each demonstrate their own personality, ably supported by the two pianists. The result was an engaging evening with some lovely story telling.

Elsewhere on this blog:
  • A series of concentric circles: Aaron Holloway-Nahum and the Riot Ensemble  - interview
  • Auf Flügeln des Gesanges: Romantic songs and piano transcriptions from Christoph Prégardien & Cyprien Katsaris (★★★★★) - CD review
  • The English Concert in Baroque concertos  - (★★★★) CD review
  • Widening the audience: I chat to Christopher Glynn about his Schubert in English project - interview
  • Staging the unstageable: Britten's War Requiem at English National Opera (★★★★) - opera review
  • Rare Tchaikovsky and Smyth: an earlier version of the piano concerto and Smyth's large-scale mass at the Barbican  (★★★★) - concert review
  • Elgar, Finzi, Parry, Walton from a different angle: arrangements for brass septet  (★★★★) - CD review
  • Love & Prayer: Nadine Benjamin debut solo album (★★★★) - CD review
  • A sense of subtext: Joe Cutler's Elsewhereness on NMC (★★★★) - CD review
  • Otherwordly concerns: Anderswelt - Marlis Petersen and Camillo Radicke in late-Romantic lieder (★★★★) - CD review
  • Late genius and two sextets: Strauss, Haydn and Brahms at Conway Hall  (★★★½)  - concert review
  • Iconic but flawed: La Bayadère the Royal Ballet  - ballet review
  • Reformation Remainers: Musicians, zealots and loyalists in Tudor England at BREMF - concert review
  • In Remembrance - choral discs commemorating the centenary of the Armistice  - CD review
  •  Home

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