Wednesday 3 June 2020

Song recitals return to Wigmore Hall and BBC Radio 3, with Lucy Crowe and Anna Tilbrook celebrating the 20th anniversary of their partnership

Anna Tilbrook and Lucy Crowe at the Wigmore Hall (Image taken from Wigmore Hall's live stream)
Anna Tilbrook and Lucy Crowe at the Wigmore Hall
(Image taken from Wigmore Hall's live stream)
Hope and Longing
; Arne, Schumann, Berg, Britten, Tate, Dunhill, Gurney, RVW, Dring, Novello; Lucy Crowe, Anna Tilbrook; Wigmore Hall

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 2 June 2020
Song returns to the Wigmore Hall with English song, early Berg and Irish folk-song, celebrating 20 years of Lucy Crowe and Anna Tilbrook's partnership

BBC Radio 3 and the Wigmore Hall's June series of live concerts without an audience continued yesterday with Hope and Longing, a song recital from soprano Lucy Crowe and pianist Anna Tilbrook; a recital which also celebrated Crowe and Tilbrook's 20 years performing together. The centrepiece of the programme was Alban Berg's Sieben frühe Lieder (Seven Early Songs), plus songs by Thomas Arne, Robert Schumann, Thomas Dunhill, Ivor Gurney, Ralph Vaughan Williams and Madeleine Dring, and a group of folk-song arrangements.

The live stream and the radio broadcast started with two minutes silence, marking #BlackoutTuesday.

'O Ravishing Delight' is an aria The Judgement of Paris, a setting by Thomas Arne (1710=1778) of William Congreve's libretto which was originally written for a competition to promote English opera in the 1701-1703. Arne's setting date from 1741, but unfortunately much of the performing material was lost in the Covent Garden fire in the early 19th century [see my review of the work's first recording]. In the opera, Paris sings the aria when he sees the three goddesses for the first time.

Crowe gave us beautifully plangent tone in the dramatic recitative, which was followed by a delightfully perky aria, though I could have wished she had made more of the English text. Anna Tilbrook provided stylish support, making us forget she was playing an anonymous keyboard reduction of Arne's lost original accompaniments.

This was followed by a group of Robert Schumann (1810-1856) songs. First a profoundly touching performance of 'Lied der Suleika' from Myrthen, Op. 25, Schumann's wedding present to Clara. Then the achingly beautiful 'Meine Rose' from Sechs Gedichte von N Lenau und Requiem Op.90, Schumann's first settings of poetry by Nikolaus Lenau (1802-1850), written in 1850 when Schumann was under the impression the poet had died (in fact he died a few weeks later). Finally, Mignon's song 'Kennst du das Land?' from Schumann's Lieder und Gesange aus Wilhelm Meister, Op.98a, setting the songs from Goethe's early novel, which Schumann wrote in 1849 the year of Goethe's centenary and is linked to Schumann's Requiem für Mignon, Op.98 b. It was an impulsive and achingly beautiful setting, though the song is perhaps rather sophisticated considering Mignon is supposed to be 13, but that hardly matters in performances like this from Crowe and Tilbrook's fine partnership.

Though we jumped only 50 years, we entered a different sound world with Berg's Seven Early Songs. Alban Berg (1885-1935) wrote the songs during his period of study with Arnold Schoenberg, and later edited them for publication in 1928. Berg set a variety of poets: Carl Hauptmann (1858–1921), Nikolaus Lenau, Theodor Storm (1817–1888), Rainer Maria Rilke (1875–1926), Johannes Schlaf (1862–1941), Otto Erich Hartleben (1864–1905), Paul Hohenberg (1885–1956).

Throughout the songs, Crowe's plangent sense of line made a striking effect, surround often by the delicate filigree of Tilbrook's accompaniment. In 'Nacht' we really benefited from being able to see Crowe's highly expressive face, in the live stream, whilst 'Schilflied' was almost lyrical. Crowe's poised vocal line in 'Die Nachtigall' developed into something positively rapturous, whilst both performers made the opening of 'Traumgekrönt' highly evocative, and then developed the song into something intense. 'Im Zimmer' was tiny, but here Crowe made the words count. Spare at first, 'Liebesode' was rather poignant and the cycle concluded with the rapturous 'Sommertage'.

Next came a group of folk-song settings, three Irish and one Canadian. First The Salley Gardens, arranged by Benjamin Britten (1913-1976); a setting of words by W.B.Yeats in which the poet was recalling a traditional song that he had heard. This was simple yet expressive. Two more Irish folk-song followed, first The Lark in the Clear Air, in a touching performance of the arrangement by Phyllis Tate (1911-1978). Then, She moved thro' the fair in a rather moving unaccompanied performance by Crowe. Finally, in this group the lovely Canadian song, She's like a swallow.

The final group of songs were all English. The first, The Cloths of Heaven, a setting of W.B. Yeats poem by Thomas Dunhill (1877-1946) was performed by Crowe and Tilbrook in their first recital together 20 years ago. It was a touching piece, with folk-ish element. Then came Sleep, a setting of the Elizabethan poet John Fletcher by Ivor Gurney (1890-1937) which received a sensitive performance, with Crowe really fining her tone right down at times but also allowing the voice to blossom wonderfully. Then 'Silent Noon' from the song cycle The House of Life, settings of Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-1882) by Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958) dating from 1903. 'Silent Noon' is the best known of the cycle, and here was full of contained emotion with Crowe floating the vocal line over Tilbrook's sensitive accompaniment, both providing moments of rapture. Finally, we had the perky charm and sly harmonies of the Shakespeare setting, It was a lover and his lass by Madeleine Dring (1923-1977).

There was an encore, the profoundly evocative We'll gather lilacs in the Spring by Ivor Novello (1893-1951)

The concert is on BBC Sounds, and the live stream is available from the Wigmore Hall website until 2 July 2020.

Elsewhere on this blog
  • Live music returns to the Wigmore Hall: Stephen Hough in Bach/Busoni and Schumann - concert review
  • Adventures on the Green Hill: with no Bayreuth Festival this year, Tony Cooper looks back at previous festivals - feature article
  • Thaïs: Massenet's lyric drama gets a rare outing on disc in a stylish performance with Canadian forces conducted by Sir Andrew Davis - CD review
  • Uncompromising large-scale drama: composer and performers on thrilling form in Adès conducts Adès from Deutsche Grammophon - CD review
  • A disc that I never wanted to end: Scottish guitarist Sean Shibe displays clarity, structure and an innate sense of elegance in Bach's solo lute music on Delphian - CD review
  • Richard Danielpour: The Passion of Yeshua - A contemporary telling of the Passion story which uses texts from both the Christian and the Jewish traditions to create a very different viewpoint - CD review
  • Tracing a youthful relationship: Tony Cooper looks at Britten's links to Norfolk & the city of Norwich - CD review
  • Clouds, Clocks and Improvisation: I chat to composer & pianist Karol Beffa about the separate but related acts of improvisation & composition - interview
  • Essential listening for anyone interested in Estonian music: Vox Clamantis' profoundly beautiful account of the music of Cyrillus Kreek, The suspended harp of Babel - CD review
  • Music for concentrated and serious listening: Piers Hellawell's Up by the Roots on Delphian - CD review
  • Going out of their comfort zone: David Nebel and Kristjan Järvi in violin concertos by Philip Glass and Igor Stravinsky - cd review
  • 'Home

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