Monday 1 August 2022

Serious Songs: Jess Dandy & Martin Roscoe in Schubert, Brahms, Wolf, Strauss at Wigmore Hall

Jess Dandy (Photo Clare Park)
Jess Dandy (Photo Clare Park)
Schubert, Brahms, Wolf, Richard Strauss; Jess Dandy, Martin Roscoe; Wigmore Hall

A fine recital from the young contralto centred on Brahms' Four Serious Songs but stretching from Schubert to Richard Strauss

As the Wigmore Hall's 2021/22 season drew to a close, on Friday 29 July 2022 contralto Jess Dandy and pianist Martin Roscoe gave a recital of songs by Schubert, Brahms, Wolf and Richard Strauss, centred on Brahms' Four Serious Songs, Op. 121 and ending with Strauss' songs Op. 27.

We began with a selection of Schubert songs. First a group which had water as their theme, from the murmuring brook of Liebesbotschaft (from Schwanengesang) to Die Forelle to Auf der Donau to the stormy tempest in Die junge Nonne

Dandy has quite a distinctively direct, plangent tone quality to her voice, and throughout the recital I was struck by the real sculptural quality to her phrasing. Liebesbotschaft was rather considered, with a lovely even sound and a beautifully rippling piano. Die Forelle was richly characterised with strong story telling aided and abetted by Roscoe's piano. Auf der Donau was sung with a lovely even line, the drama eventually developing to be quite portentous. For Die junge Nonne, where the nun is a still moment amidst the storm. Roscoe's quietly vivid piano complemented Dandy's intent and intense performance. Though they built the drama, the song remained very internal and considered, the nun quiet amidst the turmoil of the storm.

That turmoil was followed by the mystical calm of Du bist die Ruh, the considered quality of the performance complemented by Dandy's sculptural line. Nachtstück was plangently bleak and intense, whilst the final Schubert song Auflösung had Dandy's rhapsodic vocal line paired with Roscoe's exuberant piano.

Next came Brahms' Four Serious Songs, written in 1896, some of his final works; When they were complete Brahms heard that his friend Clara Schumann had died. Denn es gehet dem Menschen began dark and sober, serious indeed, though Dandy's intense phrasing was combined with a striking array of colours in her voice whilst the middle section was almost trenchant. Ich wandte mich was fluidly flowing yet sober and considered. O Tod began in a rhetorical manner, dramatic and direct but the ending was quietly magical. For all the busyness and articulation in Wenn ich mit Menschen, there was a very sober directness about the phrasing and gradually the song became rhapsodic and almost mystical. The songs were originally written for bass voice, but Dandy's tone quality and vocal style made the songs seem very fitting, and strikingly portentous.

After the interval things lightened somewhat with a group of songs from Wolf's Mörike Lieder First Nixe Binsefuss, with Roscoe's dancing piano and Dandy lightly characterful with a remarkable range of tone colours. Die Geister am Mummelsee was darker and intense, with both performers capturing the piece's strangeness, and a very vivid end. Auf ein altes Bild was considered and thoughtful, whilst An die Geliebte moved from quietly interior to restlessly intense. 

Der Knabe und das Immlein gave us something quietly pastoral, whilst Der Feuerreiter was brilliant in its vivid, dark intensity, both performers showing remarkable purpose. Finally Er ist's was lightly engaging.

The Richard Strauss group began with a poised, beautifully controlled account of Wiegenlied, Op.41 No. 1 sung with light tone and very centred. Then Mutttertändelei, all chattery character and charm. It as then nice to hear the four songs Opus 27 done as a group rather than individual selections. The four were a wedding present for Strauss' wife, Pauline, herself a singer of Strauss' songs. Though rather ironically the final two have texts by the writer and gay activist, John Henry Mackay and it can be argued that the tests of both 'Morgen' and 'Heimliche Auffordering' were written from a same sex point of view. 

'Ruhe, meine Seele' began with Roscoe's dark piano and Dandy's sombre voice. It was a performance of remarkably sustained intensity and very centred. 'Cäcilie' erupted into this, an unstoppable stream which reached a fine climax. 'Heimliche Auffordering' was urgent, flowing and impulsive leading to rapture. Then finally 'Morgen', very centred with beautifully even tone and fine emphasis on the words.

We had an encore, with Dandy commenting that you could never have enough Schubert, they performed Wandrers Nachtlied.

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