Miah Persson, Malcolm Martineau and Birgit Kolar perform works by Handel, Donald Waxman and Richard Strauss
Miah Persson (soprano), Malcolm Martineau (piano) and Birgit Kolar (violin) – Wigmore Hall, London & live on BBC Radio 3, 20 April 2015.
Listening link (opens in a new window):
on the iPlayer until 21 May
In case you cannot hear the broadcast, I have put together a Spotify playlist of the songs sung by Miah Persson. She has not recorded any of them as yet, so I have selected suitable alternatives. The playlist can be found here:
What’s the music?
Handel – 3 German Arias (1724-1727) (17 minutes)
Donald Waxman – Lovesongs (1989) (14 minutes)
Richard Strauss – Violin Sonata, Second movement – inspiration (1887) (8 minutes)
Richard Strauss – September and Beim schlafengehen (from the Four Last Songs)(1948) (10 minutes); Morgen (1894) (4 minutes)
What about the music?
The combination of voice, violin and piano is not heard much in the concert hall these days, but here Miah Persson, Birgit Kolar and Malcolm Martineau constructed a program of compositions using the forces spanning 265 years. A little imagination was required on the part of the listener – particularly in two of the three Strauss songs where the violin was introduced – but otherwise the combination worked well.
Handel’s three German Arias are part of a group of nine he wrote while setting poetry by his friend Heinrich Brokes – and they are his only settings in the language. Each is scored for a singer, a treble instrument (the violin in this case) and ‘continuo’ – which is the group of people supplying either bass line, chords or both. In this case Malcolm Martineau’s piano comfortably fulfilled that discipline.
Donald Waxman celebrates his 90th birthday this year, inviting comparisons with Elliott Carter, the grandest of old men of American music. Waxman’s best known musical currency is the song, and this group of four love songs contains poems about love by Rainer Maria Rilke, Robert Herrick, an anonymous author and Thomas Hardy.
Finally three songs by Richard Strauss, introduced by the luscious, Romantic harmonies of the second movement of his Violin Sonata. Two of the composer’s last songs are chosen as well as an early song, Morgen, which was a wedding present to his wife.
Miah Persson has a rather special voice, and heard in person at the Wigmore Hall it could easily melt the most stubborn heart.
This program was a slightly curious one, but made sense in the way it was presented. Handel’s word painting was brought to life by Persson in three of the Nine German Arias, which she sang beautifully – restrained but elegant. Meanwhile Donald Waxman’s rich Loveletters offered a more obviously Romantic view of the world and were passionately sung.
The violin was a helpful counterpart here, but was not always at its most useful in the Strauss songs, picking up elements of the orchestral part for which it was written, and ensemble with Martineau was just occasionally scrappy at the beginning and end of songs.
Two of Strauss’s Four Last Songs felt a bit bereft without the others, and despite Malcolm Martineau’s superhuman efforts there was too much going on in the piano version. Morgen, however, was a sumptuous finish to the program.
What should I listen out for?
1:49 Das zitternde Glänzen der spiegelden Wellen (The shimmering gleam of dancing waves)
This attractive aria begins with a bright violin solo, before a similarly bright entrance from the soprano. The two instruments Martineau’s very sensitive playing brings out the countermelodies when they are needed.
7:53 In den angenehmen Buschen (In these pleasant bushes, where light and shade intermingle)
A shadow falls over the music initially, with a solemn violin solo presumably painting the shade of the text. The bright soprano soars beautifully overhead, however, and finds a rather lovely major key at 9:01, then a brief but really stunning piece of virtuosity to close at 12:11.
13:00 Meine seele hort ihm Sehen (My soul hears through seeing)
‘How all things rejoice and laugh’ is the text during this aria, and Persson seems to be doing just that, her bright voice complemented perfectly by the relative restraint from Kolar and Martineau. This aria, as the BBC Radio 3 announcer Sara Mohr-Pietsch observes, is full of the joys of spring.
20:07 Lovesong (Rainer Maria Rilke) – this piece is just for voice and violin and has a curiously exposed feeling, right from the opening notes from the violin. Kolar plays double stopped (more than one note at once) until Persson glides in, at which point she largely switches to a single note. The tonality is often elusive but the song is carefully thought.
23:57 The Mad Maid (Robert Herrick) – the two instruments begin with unhinged figures that threaten to settle into a busy, Stravinsky-like rhythm, with plenty of syncopations – yet the song feels beyond reach, rather like the mind of the maid, right through to its colder conclusion.
28:16 Nocturne (Anon) – a more obviously romantic song. The close interplay between violin and piano leads to a slow, sonorous melody from the singer. There is a much sweeter aftertaste to this encounter.
32:04 A Bygone Occasion (Thomas Hardy) – a festival air to the last song through the busy piano line, with some jazzy elements in the exchanges with violin. Again Persson’s voice is imperious, and joyful too.
35:20 – Violin Sonata, Second movement – an improvisatory and rapturous movement for violin and piano, exploring rich harmonies and melodies. The piano part is particularly full-bodied, as though Strauss were writing for a miniature orchestra. A choppy central section introduces some turbulence that rights itself for a return to the main theme.
43:37 – September from the Four Last Songs – this may be music of an old man (Strauss was 84 at the time of composition) but it is clearly a man who has enjoyed a good life. Persson sings with real passion, and the note where she comes back in at 45:07 is worth hearing several times!
48:06 – Beim schlafengehen (When falling asleep) – the sleep here of course is the ultimate, end-of-life sleep – but Strauss paints a contented picture, as does Persson – though the piano part has a job rendering all the orchestral detail with just two hands! The violin arrives to help at 49:44, upon which the soprano becomes more and more powerful, the vocal line sweeping upwards as though reaching for heaven.
54:09 – Morgen (Morning) – one of Strauss’s most celebrated songs, and in the intro the listener can almost imagine the sun hovering at the horizon, ready to break through and begin the day. With it comes an atmosphere of intense calm, taken up by Persson.
Want to hear more?
During the Waxman in particular I was put in mind of the songs of Samuel Barber and Aaron Copland, both found on a wonderful disc from the soprano Barbara Bonney, accompanied by none other than André Previn. It can be heard on Spotify here
For more concerts click here