Saturday 20 April 2024

A Leeds Songbook and a showcase performance: Leeds Lieder Young Artists 2024

Leeds Lieder Young Artists 2024 at Howard Assembly Room
Leeds Lieder Young Artists 2024 at Howard Assembly Room

Composers & Poets Forum Showcase: A Leeds Songbook; Leeds Lieder Festival at Leeds Minster
Reviewed 17 April 2024

Young Artists Showcase: Leeds Lieder Festival at Howard Assembly Room
Reviewed 19 April 2024

First a programme of specially written new song and then a chance to shine in their chosen repertoire, and for us to experience some fine young voices and performers really stretching themselves.

Leeds Lieder Festival certainly keeps its Young Artists busy. They arrived in Leeds on Sunday not only have they been taking part in masterclasses and a final showcase performance at Opera North's Howard Assembly Room on 19 April 2024 when each duo performed their own selection of songs, but on 17 April 2024 at Leeds Minster they presented this year's instalment of A Leeds Songbook.

The Composers & Poets Forum Showcase at Leeds Minster on 17 April featured ten new songs by student composers collaborating with local poets to create ten further contributions to A Leeds Songbook. Each song was written for the Young Artist duo that performed it. Before each song, the poet read their words to give us more of an idea of content.

City Turned Into a Song by Jan Pospisil (music) and Nigel Karl Stone (words), performed by Anton Kirchhoff (baritone) and Jou-an Chen (piano), was lyrical and tonal, beginning unaccompanied with Kirchhoff showing a fine lyric baritone. With a faint air of melancholy, it alternated between the more urgent and rather interior, all with a little hint of music theatre. The Poet by Kinna Whitehead (music) and Ian Parks (words), performed by Cerys MacAllister (soprano) and André Bertoncini (piano), featured MacAllister almost on a monotone, rather confiding, emotion recalled in quietness, with a rhythmic accompaniment that featured the pianist knocking, to striking if distracting effect.

She Walks the Blue and Yellow Lands by Glen Downie (music) and Christ Cambell (words), performed by Deirunas Jasiulionis (tenor) and Fang-Lin Liu (piano), had vivid, short sharp vocal phrases and spiky piano; as the song developed, urgent vocal gestures punctuated the more expansive piano part. Letter From Heaven by Goi Ywei Chern (music) and Yvonne Ugarte (words), performed by Anusha Merrin (soprano) and Chunmeng Ge (piano), was one of the most impressive songs of the event. A moment suspended in time, Merrin's high soprano managed to project an impressive number of words. A concentrated performance creating something intense and evocative.

A lighthouse near Holbeck by Rosemary Shapes Tickle (music) and Kristina Diprose (words), performed by Elia Farreras Cabero (soprano) and Lucas Huber Sierra (piano), mixed spare, edgy piano with a more lyric, expressionist voice creating an intriguing sound world but raising the suspicion that more interest was in the piano with Shapes Tickle being over careful in the vocal writing. The Birdman of Adel Woods by Huw Mears (music) and Susan Darlington (words), performed by Felicitas Wrede (soprano) and Abhisri Chaudhuri (piano), was dark an expressionist in tone, conjuring real atmosphere.

Richard's Song by Dawn Walters (music) and Laura Strickland (words), performed by Thomas McGowan (baritone) and Benjamin Collyer (piano), felt very mid-20th century English, attractively lyric and well-written for voice with discreet yet atmospheric piano writing, creating something touching. The Changeling Moss by David Palmer (music) and Lizzie Nolan (words), performed by Laura Coppinger (soprano) accompanied by the composer, featured athletic, quasi-instrumental writing for the voice, impressively performed by Coppinger. The very distinct atmosphere of the piece reflected the poem's tone, but lacked the intriguing sense of irony Lizzie Nolan gave it when she read the poem, also I was unclear whether Palmer had set all the words that Nolan read out to us.

With Cheer by Peter Cooper (music) and Hanna Stone (words), performed by Biqing Zhang (soprano) and Yongqiu Yuan (piano), had expansive piano writing and a lyric yet rather wandering vocal line, and the feeling the composer was trying to cram too many words in. Life Lesson by Emilie Speaight (music) and Abbi Senior (words), performed by Aksel Ryvkin (baritone) and André Bertoncini (piano), had a real dance sense in the piano, but Speaight's music tantalised, never quite settling in a close form yet evoking atmosphere. Here music and words were in complete harmony.

This was an impressive achievement, ten composers responding to the challenge of new poems, and young performers giving the songs their voice. It is worth bearing in mind that not all the singers were Anglophone yet all worked toward that magic marriage of words and music that is song.

At lunchtime on Friday 19 April 2024, the Young Artists got their chance to perform their own selection of song at the Howard Assembly Room. Aksel Ryvkin (baritone) and Zany Denyer (piano) began with two Schubert songs; Der Wanderer an den Mond, full of swagger and melancolia with great works, and Die Mutter Erde, serious and intense with a lovely, well-supported line. Then Felicitas Wrede (soprano) and Abhisri Chaudhuri (piano) took us to France, with an intense account of Debussy's Beau Soir with a lovely sense fragility in tone, followed by the first three of Ravel's Cinq Mélodies populaires grecques. The first suprisingly sober and intent but with a vibrant vibrato colouring the tone, the second plangent and the third wonderfully vivid. Wrede really invested in the songs, inhabiting the performance space.

Anusha Merrin (soprano) and Chunmeng Ge (piano) continued with more Debussy and his contemporary Amy Beach (she was just six year younger). Debussy's Nuit d'etoiles was poised yet subdued, though I liked Merrin's lovely youthful-sounding lyric soprano. She was perhaps a bit young to bring of the world-weariness of Beach's Ah Love, but a day but there were some impressive big passions too. Laura Coppinger (soprano) and David Palmer (piano) gave is a rather more challenging contrast. They began with Oliver Knussen's Walt Whitman setting, The Dalliance of Eagles, challenging indeed with its athletic vocal writing, almost instrumental in style. This was drama, vibrantly done with vivid piano accompaniment, though words were very much at a premium here. In complete contrast, came a sensitive account of Frank Bridge's Come to me in my dreams, touching and concentrated.

Deirunas Jasiulionis (tenor) and Fang-Lin Liu (piano) gave us two songs from Robert Schumann's Myrthen. Freisinn was full of swagger and vigour with admirably firm piano accompaniment, then Zum Schluss was lyrical. Jasiulionis has quite an intense voice, and I wondered whether he might have been better served by more vividly 20th century music.  Elia Farreras Cabero (soprano) and Lucas Huber Sierra (piano) paired Schumann with Wolf. First, Wolf's Mignon I (Do not bid me speak) performed with concentrated focus and real intensity plus a fine concentration on the words. Then Schumann's Auf dem See with a nice sense of freedom to it and a feeling of real identification with the song.

Anton Kirchhoff (baritone) and Jou-an Chen (piano) moved from Debussy to Poulenc to Grieg. First, Debussy's Romance: 'L'âme évaporée', all lyric melancholy with a lovely darkness to the tone, then Poulenc's Le retour du Sergent, vividly done with great character and finally Grieg's Ein Traum, quite discreet at first but then he unleashed the power and really let rip. Cerys MacAllister (soprano) and André Bertoncini (piano) continued with Poulenc then moved to Mahler. First, Poulenc's Deux Poemes de Louis Aragon; 'C' was quite interior but offset with vibrant tone, whilst the chattering of 'Fetes Galantges' was vivid. Mahler's Liebst du um Schoenheit was concentrated and meaningful, really about the text.

Biqing Zhang (soprano) and Yongqiu Yuan (piano) began with Richard Strauss and then moved to Zhang's native China. In Strauss' Schlagenherzen, Zhang brought real charm and character to the song, really filling the stage with her delightful presence. Zhou Yi's Chaitoufeng felt quite French in style, flowing and touching with an elaborately ornamented vocal line. Finally, Thomas McGowan (baritone) and Benjamin Collyer (piano) in Schubert and Warlock. McGowan brought lovely dark tone to Schubert's Nachtstück, concentrated and thoughtful, he really inhabited the song. Then a lovely swaggering account of Peter Warlock's Yarmouth Fair, with McGowan relishing the story telling.

This was an impressive 90 minutes. Not every performer felt a natural on the recital stage, and you feel that some will inhabit the operatic stage quite naturally, but each performing duo really brought something of interest. Some of the repertoire choices felt a bit as if the performers' choice was more about what they felt they ought to present, and the best performances were those who really inhabited the material.

All the events are available on the festival's YouTube channel.

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Elsewhere on this blog

  • Leeds Lieder 2024
    • A day of French song with a focus on Fauré, with Graham Johnson making us love the composer's late period, and James Gilchrist in fine form - concert review
    • Engaging the audience: James Newby and Joseph Middleton in a folk-inspired programme at a cool Leeds café/bar - concert review
  • The sound of an image: recent chamber music by New York City-based, Puerto Rican-born composer Gabriel Vicéns - record review
  • A City Full of StoriesAnna Phillips on her work with Academy of St Martin in the Fields' SoundWalk - guest posting
  • Energy, discipline, & sheer love of music-making: National Youth Orchestra & National Youth Brass Band in Gavin Higgins - concert review
  • No boundaries or rules: Yorkshire-based Paradox Orchestra is reinventing the orchestral concert - interview
  • Full of good things: Sean Shibe and the Dunedin Consort in John Dowland, a new Cassandra Miller concerto and much else besides - concert review
  • A little bit of magic: Victoria's Tenebrae Responsories sung one to a part at the original pitch by I Fagiolini and Robert Hollingworth - record review
  • Dramatic Britten, athletic Watkins and high-energy Mozart: Britten Sinfonia, Ben Goldscheider and Nicky Spence at Milton Court - concert review
  • A lovely evocation of stillness and calm: Alastair Penman's Quietude on his Meadowbank Music label - record review
  • Bizet's Carmen at Covent Garden: gritty realism & a reluctance to add any local colour & movement, redeemed by musical performances - opera review
  • Spell Book, Witch & Stone Fruitcomposer Freya Waley-Cohen on the power of ritual and spells - interview
  • West Green House Opera: new artistic director Tom Elwin introduces the 2024 season - interview
  • Home

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