Friday 30 July 2021

Engaging, imaginative and beautifully thought out: four online recitals from Robin Tritschler, Jess Dandy, Julien van Mellaerts, Harriet Burns and Ian Tindale

Ian Tindale and Robin Tritschler (from video filmed by TallWallMedia)
Ian Tindale and Robin Tritschler (from video filmed by Tall Wall Media)

In a dynamic response to his own lost work, pianist Ian Tindale organised a series of online song-recitals, which also enabled him to create new programmes with colleagues that he had not had chance to work with over the past year. The result is an engaging series of four 30-minute recitals, tenor Robin Tritschler in Britten and Schubert, contralto Jess Dandy in Schubert and Mahler, baritone Julien van Mellaerts in an English and French programme, and soprano Harriet Burns in a recital based around Schumann's Frauenliebe und -leben, all beautifully filmed by Simon Wall of Tall Wall Media in the lovely music room of a private house.

The online presence is admirably organised, there is a YouTube Playlist, each video has the full programme in the footer (with tracking links), plus a link to the texts and translations. Though with all four singers you hardly need these latter, diction is uniformly superb and communicability excellent, whatever the language the emotion comes over.

We begin with Robin Tritschler in My Beloved in Mine, a programme which takes Britten's Canticle 1 'My Beloved is Mine' as its centre-point and accompanies it with love in its many forms. Four songs by Schubert first, varied and finely done; the joyful Bei dir allein!, then the hauntingly beautiful Des Fischers Liebesglück which forms the still centre of the entire recital, followed by Im Freien and ending with more joy, Mein! Next come two Britten songs, the strange and mysterious Fish in unruffled lakes and the familiar yet still disturbing Down by the Sally Gardens (incidentally later, Julien van Mellaerts sings Gurney's setting of the same text). Followed by My beloved is mine, a work notable for the fluidity of the vocal line and the moments vivid dazzle in the writing. Tritschler and Tindale to justice to both, yet throughout you feel the emotional core of work.

Jess Dandy also sings selection of Schubert songs followed by Mahler with both composers displaying their response to the same poet, Friedrich Rückert. So firstly we have a very human Schubert with Lachen und weinen, then the carefully centred beauty of Sei mir gegrüsst, and finally the tragic beauty Dass sie hier gewesen, which leads superbly into Mahler's Rückert Lieder. Tindale and Dandy bring a very classical feel to these songs, and in a song like  'Blicke mir nicht in die Lieder!' removing the orchestra places greater emphasis on Dandy's considered yet characterful performance. Which isn't to day, however that Tindale's playing misses anything, he makes a wide range of colour in the piano, just listen to his introduction to 'Um Mitternacht' with Dandy then evoking memories of darker, older voices such as Kathleen Ferrier rather than the more recent, lighter mezzo-sopranos in this repertoire. The final two songs are equally compelling, with the sculptural beauty of Dandy's phrasing really contributing to 'Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen'.

Julien van Mellaerts in Dream-land gives us an intriguing recital which moves from Ivor Gurney to RVW to Ravel. We begin with Gurney's Down by the Sally Gardens which owes nothing to the traditional tune and gives a different slant, followed by In Flanders, that haunting ode to Gurney's lost countryside. We then move to Gurney's teacher, RVW, but a song written in 1907, The Sky above the Roof, which was the year that RVW went to Ravel (his junior) for 'a bit of French polish', followed by another early song, Dream-land (from 1906), lovely to hear these in recital. We then move to Ravel at the same period, music he was writing just before RVW appeared, Histoires naturelles which caused controversy at the time because of Ravel's approach to the usually 'silent' e (which is generally unsilent when sung!). Here Van Mellaert's clearly enjoys the story-telling (I loved his range of sounds from the peacock's cry to all the others), yet his approach is musical and lyrical. Words and music count here. 

What to do about Schumann's Frauenliebe und -leben, a song cycle about a woman's life yet written by two men? No matter how superb the songs, we have to have at least a moment's pause. Roderick Williams and others have made a case for having this sung by a man, but women can reclaim it too. Here, Harriet Burns and Ian Tindale have the intriguing idea of expanding the cycle adding more songs, but this time from a woman's point of view, inserting three songs by Clara Schumann, Er ist gekommen in Sturm und Regen, Liebst du um Schönheit and Die stille Lotosblume, a wonderfully imaginative solution especially as two of the songs set Rückert, which links us back to Dandy's recital. 

Burns has a bright, light, engaging lyric soprano and she brings a lovely immediacy to the songs as well as a sense of youth, the early songs are lived rather than the idea of an older singer creating a sense of looking back. Yet in the later songs, particularly the final one, she is highly focused and intense; a youthful widow, perhaps, but one no less feeling and made all the more poignant by Tindale's playing of the postlude which echoes the first song. And the extra songs, well they provide a sense of a different perspective and a deepening idea of the couple's relationship.

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