Tuesday, 13 April 2021

Manchester Song Festival: Kathryn Rudge, Kathrine Broderick, and RNCM Songsters at Stoller Hall

Manchester Song Festival - Ruth Gibson, Kathryn Stott, Katherine Broderick (image taken from live stream)
Manchester Song Festival - Ruth Gibson, Kathryn Stott, Katherine Broderick (image taken from live stream)

Manchester Song Festival; Kathryn Rudge, Jonathan Fisher, RNCM Songsters, Katherine Broderick, Kathryn Stott, Ruth Gibson; Stoller Hall

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 27 March 2021
From English song to Brahms, Bridge and Strauss, with a group of young singers exploring lesser known repertoire, an all-day on-line celebration of song at Stoller Hall

The Manchester Song Festival, artistic director Marcus Farnsworth, returned on 27 March 2021 with full day of of event streamed live from Stoller Hall in Manchester (supported by the Haworth Charitable Trust). The day was bookended by recitals with proceedings opening with Kathryn Rudge (mezzo-soprano) and Jonathan Fisher (piano) in English song and ending with Katherine Broderick (soprano), Kathryn Stott (piano) and Ruth  Gibson (viola) in Brahms, Bridge and Richard Strauss. In between there was a programme from the RNCM Songsters, a masterclass from Kathryn Rudge with young singers from Chetham's School and an early evening concert from jazz duo, Lauren Kinsella (vocals) and Kit Downes (piano) performing music by American jazz drummer, percussionist, and composer Paul Motian (1931-2011).

Whilst the event was live-streamed, there was also a small audience of pupils from Chetham's School (of which the hall is part), which made the concerts feel that bit more lived in.

Manchester Song Festival - Jonathan Fisher, Kathryn Rudge (image taken from live stream)
Manchester Song Festival - Jonathan Fisher, Kathryn Rudge (image taken from live stream)

We began with Kathryn Rudge and Jonathan Fisher (who is on the staff at the RNCM) in 20th century English song. Rudge began with a classic, William Denis Browne's To Gratiana Dancing and Singing, in performance which moved from thoughtful to passionate. Rudge was in lovely voice, singing with rich, vibrant tone and really making all the songs in her programme count. Her second item was Roger Quilter's Seven Elizabethan Lyrics from 1908, settings of Elizabethan poets (Ben Johnson, Thomas Campion and five anonymous). There was a grave beauty and dignified melancholy about many of these songs, beautifully crafted and superbly put over by Rudge and Fisher. Rudge's diction meant we did not need a printed text, and she made each word expressive. Herbert Howells' King David returned us to more familiar territory with elegance moving to real passion (and some great nightingale from Fisher).

Three of Britten's folksong arrangements, The Salley Gardens, Brisk Young Widow and Oliver Cromwell, enabled Rudge to bring out her gift for storytelling, though even here we could admire the beauty of line and her attention to the words. Finally, three Coleridge settings by Britten's teacher and mentor, Frank Bridge. Thy hand in mine was lovely and thoughtful, Where she lies asleep full of complex passions whilst the better known Love went a riding brought things to a vivid close with Rudge supported by some fine piano playing from Fisher.

Jonathan Fisher's involvement continued with the next segment of the programme as Fisher is the artistic director of RNCM Songsters (a group of student singers and accompanists at the college who specialise in the song repertoire). Here we got three singer/pianist pairs. First Charlotte Kennedy (soprano) and Hector Leung (piano) in Fanny Mendelssohn's Morgenstandchen and Warum sind denn die Rosen so blass? and Hubert Parry's Armida's Garden and My heart is like a singing bird. Kennedy had a lovely bright soprano voice and a highly engaging manner. She and Leung explored these relatively unknown songs in a way which encouraged us to listen. 

The exploration of the lesser known continued when Philip O’Connor (tenor) and Sid Ramchander (piano) gave us Liszt's Bist du! (originally written in 1844 but Liszt revised it in the 1870s) and two songs by Landon Ronald, Remember me and June Rhapsody. The Liszt was a large-scale piece, slow and intriguing yet O'Conner and Ramchander held our attention. We don't hear much of the music of Landon Ronald in concert programmes, he is better known as a conductor and was principal of the Guildhall School of Music from 1910 to 1938. Yet Ronald wrote over 200 songs. There was a vague air  of the salon about the songs, but they were finely crafted and subtly complex, whilst O'Connor and Ramchander's performance made us believe in them.

The final duo Samuel Snowden (baritone) and Christopher Pulleyn (piano) gave us an intriguing mix of Ravel and Warlock, starting with Ravel's Don Quichotte a Dulcinee, his short cycle which was the last of his compositions. Snowden was by turns engaging, sober and characterful, with both performers responding the the music's varying moods and ending wonderfully vividly . And then following this with a delightful rendering of Warlock's Captain Stratton's Fancy.

We picked proceedings up at the end of the day, for soprano Kathering Broderick's recital with pianist Kathyrn Sott and viola player Ruth Gibson. In an example of Broderick's typically imaginative programming we heard Brahms' two songs for voice, viola and piano, and then Frank Bridge's three songs for the same combination, and then ending with a trio of Richard Strauss songs. The dates of the music formed an interesting continuity, the first Brahms song dated from the 1880s, the Richard Strauss songs from the 1890s and the Bridge from the early 1900s.

The two Brahms songs were written for violinist Joseph Joachim and his wife Amalie. In them Broderick displayed a wonderfully firm and expressive middle and lower register, exploring some rich tones and textures which complemented beautifully the viola and piano. These were performances in which you felt the real sense of collaboration between the three performers, real vocal chamber music. This continued with the three Bridge songs, which were first performed in 1908. The mood of the first, Far, far from each other was richly romantic yet, being Bridge this was anything but an obvious song. Where is it that our souls doth go? was darkly intense, with Broderick conveying the complexities of the poetry, whilst Music when soft voices die was full of lyrical melancholy.

Broderick and Rudge ended with three Richard Strauss songs. Morgen was sung with a lovely vibrant line and Broderick made you unusually aware of the words and their meaning, rather than simply luxuriating in the music. Befreit was darkly brooding whilst Cäcilie ended on a pure outpouring of joy.



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