Tuesday 12 July 2022

Telling tales of love: Ailish Tynan and James Baillieu at Wigmore Hall

Grieg, Schubert, Hahn, Richard Strauss; Ailish Tynan, James Baillieu; Wigmore Hall
Grieg, Schubert, Hahn, Richard Strauss; Ailish Tynan, James Baillieu; Wigmore Hall
Reviewed 10 July 2022, (★★★★½)

An evening of favourite songs on the theme of love, from the freshness of Grieg, to Hahn in seductively Venetian mode and the magic of Strauss, with Schubert in the middle

Soprano Ailish Tynan returned to Wigmore Hall on Sunday 10 July 2022 with pianist James Baillieu with a programme of favourite songs by Grieg, Schubert, Hahn and Richard Strauss where the theme was love, both sacred and profane. Central to the recital were three important song sets, Grieg's Opus 48 began the recital and Strauss' Opus 27 ended it with Hahn's Venezia in the middle.

For his Six Songs, Opus 48, Grieg returned to setting German texts for the first time in 20 years (though the songs were also produced versions with Norwegian translations. The songs come between the Holberg Suite and books three and four of the Lyric Pieces, and whilst in the songs Grieg turns somewhat to the German lied, the songs retain the freshness of his other works of this period. 

'Gruss' was certainly fresh and engaging; a little gem that was a lovely way to begin the recital. I have heard Tynan sing these songs before, but that was back in 2020 when she did so to an empty hall and we listened/watched remotely so it was lovely to encounter them in person. 'Dereinst, Gedanke mein' was thoughtful and rather interior, never rising too much, it ended on a quietly transcendent note. The lively, folk-ish 'Lauf der Welt' showcased Tynan's delightful storytelling abilities, and throughout the evening there were plenty of occasions when we felt her eager to tell us a new tale. 'Die verschwiegene Nachtigall' began with a magical piano prelude, the opening was fresh and clear with an engaging sense of the story. Tynan and Baillieu made the melodic felicity of 'Zur Rosenzeit' rather touching, rising to greater intensity then shading off until Tynan's voice was just a thread. Finally came 'Ein Traum', sung with great fragility but still with an engaging keenness to communicate.

Schubert came next with a diverse group of songs where love was key. First Dass sie hier gewesen, touching in its simplicity, and then Gretchen am Spinnrade were Tynan brought a youthful freshness to the music and Baillieu's contribution at the piano was fabulous. There were moments of rapture but of quiet too. From a Goethe setting we moved to Schiller, with Amalia, a touching narrative that was structured almost like an operatic scena. In Die junge Nonne, whilst there was drama in the piano, Tynan remained finely controlled, the emotion internalised so the she was the still small voice of calm amidst the piano's tempest. Finally came Ellens Gesange III, one of the songs Schubert wrote to translations of Sir Walter Scott, touching but with a sense of strong interior purpose.

After the interval we heard five songs from Reynaldo Hahn's Venezia, his group of songs in Venetian dialect. For 'Sopra l'acqua indormenzada', Tynan's voice was a thread, caressing the lovely vocal line and, by the end, beautifully seductive and finely partnered by Baillieu's evocative piano. 'La barcheta' was more urgent, full of anticipation for what was to come and each of the melismatic phrases full of wonder. 'L'averimento' was vividly chattering and, by the end, rather suggestive. 'La biondina in gondoleta' was gently engaging and we ended in a complete contrast with a vivid account of 'Che peca', all flashing eyes and fully engaged manner, creating something of a tour-de-force.

We finished with a group of Richard Strauss songs. First Zueignung, full of suppressed rapture and sung with a fine bright sense of line. Then the gently haunting Befreit, gradually developing in power and intensity to something magical. Then the songs Opus 27, of which 'Heimliche Aufforderung' was dedicated to Strauss' forthcoming bride, Pauline, one was composed the day of the wedding and 'Morgen' was his wedding gift. Ironically, the author of the texts of 'Heimliche Aufforderung' and 'Morgen' was the gay writer John Henry Mackay. Strauss and Mackay knew each other, thanks to a common interest in anarchism, but it was only later that Mackay became more publicly identified as homosexual and it is almost certain that the beloved in the two poems was another man! [see my article]

'Ruhe meine Seele' began with a strong piano introduction, leading to a barely-there vocal line sung as if there was all the time in the world, then 'Cacilie' erupted with an unstoppable stream of impulsive emotion, whilst 'Heimliche Aufforderung' was all suppressed excitement, till the rapturous end. We ended with a magical account of 'Morgen' sung with fine control, the voice a light thread and Baillieu's piano wonderfully evocative.

There were two encores, there first an animal-themed children's song and the second continuing the animal theme in more adult vein with Tom Lehrer's Poisoning pigeons in the park.

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