Friday 1 July 2022

Unsung Heroines: Lauren Fagan & Opera Holland Park Young Artists in a celebration of women composers and more

Lauren Fagan
Lauren Fagan
Unsung Heroines: Clara Schumann, R. Strauss, Ilse Weber, Stefania Turkewich, Graciane Finzi, Bachelet, Rachmaninov, Madeleine Dring, Undine Smith Moore, Smythe, Dvorak, Rebecca Clarke, Stravinsky; Lauren Fagan, Lucy Anderson, Olivia Boen, Phillip Costovski, Gary Matthewman; Opera in Song at Opera Holland Park
Reviewed 29 June 2022

A last minute replacement forced programme changes, but Lauren Fagan gave us an engaging and imaginative programme, supported by Opera Holland Park's Young Artists in an eclectic and unusual mix of songs

The second of Opera Holland Park's Opera in Song recital series, curated by Dylan Perez and Julien Van Mellaerts, was Unsung Heroines on 29 June 2022. Planned to be recital of works by female composers sung by Louise Alder, in the event soprano Lauren Fagan (Violetta in Opera Holland Park's La traviata, see my review) stood in at the last moment. Lauren Fagan was joined by three of this years Young Artists, soprano Lucy Anderson, soprano Olivia Boen, and tenor Phillip Costovski, with pianist Gary Matthewman for a programme of music by Clara Schumann, Richard Strauss, Ilse Weber, Stefania Turkewich, Graciane Finzi, Alfred Bachelet, Rachmaninov, Madeleine Dring, Undine Smith Moore, Ethel Smythe, Dvorak, Rebecca Clarke and Stravinsky, and the event was a benefit for Solace Women's Aid.

Lauren Fagan and Gary Matthewman began with Clara Schumann's songs Opus 12, her contribution to a joint setting of poems by Friedrich Rückert which she created in 1840 with her new husband Robert. These are amongst Clara Schumann's best known songs, though we do not always hear the three together. 'Er ist gekommen in Sturm und Regen' was finely impulsive and I enjoyed the way Fagan and Matthewman brought out Clara Schumann's motivic repetition throughout the song. Fagan's diction was excellent, making every word carry its weight, and the whole performance combined poise and passion.  'Warum willst du and're fragen' was highly concentrated, with a lovely warm line Finally, a thoughtful and warm account of 'Liebst du um Schönheit'. In both these latter two songs, Fagan gave a real sense of the speaker being very grounded.

The two then moved on to Richard Strauss, with two of his Opus 27 songs from 1894, given as a wedding present to Strauss' wife. 'Cäcilie' was beautifully impulsive and full of warmth and depth, leading to some fine rapture. 'Morgen' started with Matthewman's highly sensitive piano playing; whilst we are used to this song in orchestral guise, it is worth pointing out that Strauss wrote them for piano and only orchestrated some a few years later. Fagan's entry was thoughtful and interior, full of melancholy and for all the many beauties of her vocal line, it was as much about the words, the poetry. Then Matthewman gave us a magical postlude.

Lucy Anderson then sang two songs. First, Wiegela by Ilse Weber; Weber was interned in Theresienstadt (where she died in 1944), she wrote poems and sang them as songs, to her own guitar accompaniment, to the children in Theresienstadt. Anderson sang it unaccompanied, simple and touching, yet more complex than the song appeared at first. Then Anderson and Matthewman performed  Proshchannja by the Ukrainian composer Stefania Turkewich (1898-1977).  She came to Britain in 1946 and remained here until her death. Proshchannja (The Parting) is a setting of a rather complex poem (subject of some discussion, evidently, between Anderson and Matthewman) that is about a soldier bidding farewell to his mother. The piano evoked the complexities of modernism but with a romantic thread and a sense of expressionism. Anderson gave a wonderfully powerful and big-hearted performance, with both performers full of passion.

Next Olivia Boen sang La vie, l'amour by the contemporary French composer Graciane Finzi (she was born in Casablanca in 1945). Finzi was a name that was new to me; La vie, l'amour was written in 2004, one of three settings of poems by Alphonse de Lamartine (1790-1869). With its evocative piano writing, the music suggested influences of a composer such as Dutilleux.  Boen and Matthewman really conjured the song's delicate atmosphere and brought out a lovely array of colours, magical indeed.

Lauren Fagan returned with Chère nuit, written by the French composer Alfred Bachelet (1864-1944) for Dame Nellie Melba in 1897. A world away from the Richard Strauss from three years before, this was heart-on-sleeve stuff, performed with poise and passion by Fagan and Matthewman. 

Then they moved into a different world with a group of songs by Sergei Rachmaninov; four of his Six Romances Opus 38, written in 1916. These are Rachmaninov's final songs, written shortly before the Revolution and at a time when the composer was looking for a new voice. The songs deliberately set contemporary poetry with which he was unfamiliar, and represent an intriguing suggestion of a path not taken. 'At Night in my Garden' was darkly melancholic, and intense, whilst 'Daisies' was engaging yet still complex. In the songs you sensed Rachmaninov pushing compositional boundaries rather more than we are used to. 'Dream' had a fascinating harmonic atmosphere, haunting and magical, then the group finished with 'A-oo', impulsive at first but full of passion at the end.

Madeleine Dring (1923-1977) still remains an underrated presence in song recitals, so it was lovely to hear It was a lover and his lass (from Dring's 1949 Three Shakespeare Songs) performed with engaging wit by Lucy Anderson and Gary Matthewman. Olivia Boen then returned with Love let the wind cry by the Black American composer Undine Smith Moore (1904-1989), setting an English version of a poem by Sapho. A big boned song, it received a big hearted performance full of rapture.

Lauren Fagan has been singing the role of Avis in Ethel Smyth's The Wreckers at Glyndebourne [see my review], so it was a delight to re-encounter Avis' Act One aria 'Je connais certaine fille', a sexy, fun-filled number in which Fagan channelled Smyth's Bizet-inspired influences. Then in a change of mood we heard Rusalka's Song to the Moon from Dvorak's opera, in a lovely poised account.

Philip Costovski sang two of Rebecca Clarke's settings of W.B. Yeats, which were originally dedicated to tenor Gervase Elwes. As Costovski commented in his spoken introduction, in neither of the songs is Yeats particularly modern in his attitude to women, but both songs show Clarke as a fine songwriter. 'Shy One' seemed to rather channel Clarke's teachers, but 'The cloths of Heaven' moved from the more conventional to something more adventurous, and both received strong performances from Costovski and Matthewman.

The final item in the programme returned us to opera, Anne's 'No word from Tom ... I go to him' from Stravinsky's The Rake's Progress, sung with poise and confident bravura by Fagan with stylish accompaniment from Matthewman. There was an encore, Musetta's Act Two solo from Puccini's La Boheme.

Never miss out on future posts by following us

The blog is free, but I'd be delighted if you were to show your appreciation by buying me a coffee.

Elsewhere on this blog

  • An exciting rediscovery: Mercadante's Il proscritto proves far more than a museum piece in this thrilling revival from Opera Rara - opera review
  • An afternoon delight: Anna Morrisey's inventive production of Rossini's The Barber of Seville at Nevill Holt Opera, in a finely musical performance conducted by Dinis Sousa - opera review
  • Poetic drama & real musicality: highly imaginative Rusalka from Jack Furness at Garsington with Natalya Romaniw as a compelling water nymph - opera review
  • Obsessed by voices: pianist Dylan Perez on recording the complete songs of Samuel Barber - interview
  • Closeness & distance: Friedrich Cerha's evocation of Viennese traditional music in a new version for Viennese Schrammel quartet - record review
  • Never such innocence: Benjamin Hewat-Craw & Yuhao Guo in RVW, Butterworth & Gurney - record review
  • The Lost Art of Frances Cole: recordings from the 1970s provide a glimpse of the art of the Black American harpsichordist - record review
  • Giving voice to unconventional instruments: the Lawrence Graduate Bayreuth Tuben Quintet - record review
  • Madcap theatre & magnificent music: Janacek's The Excursions of Mr. Brouček at Grange Park Opera - opera review
  • A strong affinity to melodic music: I chat to composer John Brunning about his works for guitar - interview
  • Strong meat: Grange Park Opera stages Ponchielli's rarity, La Gioconda in a performance that full embraces the work's drama - opera review
  • Rising to the challenge: the Young Artists of the National Opera Studio in Sondheim: Before & After - opera review
  • Vivid & vibrant: Poul Ruders' Harpsichord Concerto from Mahan Esfahani, Aarhus Symphony Orchestra, Leif Segestam - record review
  • Home

No comments:

Post a Comment

Popular Posts this month