by Ben Hogwood
In three weeks’ time, the 21st Oxford Lieder Festival will be underway – and this is a short piece to show you why it’s worth going!
Arcana first attended this festival in 2018, and were really taken with its layout, friendly atmosphere, and intimate (or breathtaking!) venues. This is before we even get to the music, which is imaginatively chosen and programmed, and performed by some of the best singers and pianists available. Not only that, but festival director Sholto Kynoch and his team place the music in the context of interesting talks and features to place the songs in the context of the wider arts climate.
This year’s festival is Friendship In Song: An Intimate Art, and its aim is to ‘explore friendships between composers, poets and performers, recreate the intimate atmosphere of the salon, and generally enjoy a festive spirit of conviviality and shared experience. World-renowned artists mingle with the best of the new generation, and the great works of the song repertoire are complemented by new music and new discoveries’.
You are encouraged to head to the festival website to explore the concerts and artists, but Arcana would like to point you to a couple. On Saturday 15 October the songs of Richard Strauss come under the microscope. Until recently this aspect of the composer’s output was not greatly considered, lying in the shadow of his orchestral works and operas, but more recent explorations have shown just how inventive he could be as a songwriter.
On Sunday 16 October Claire Booth & Christopher Glynn perform songs and piano works by Mussorgsky and Rimsky-Korsakov, and later that evening Patricia Petibon & Susan Manoff make their festival debut in a typically imaginative programme. If you have not seen these two live before, they are a brilliant double act, bringing their songs to life, as Arcana discovered at the Wigmore Hall back in 2015.
Tuesday 18 October sees the beginning of a mini-series devoted to this year’s most prominent festival composer. Vaughan Williams: Perspectives will examine some of RVW’s most memorable songs and cycles, including Songs of Travel (William Thomas & Anna Tilbrook) and Four Last Songs (Ailish Tynan and Libby Burgess). As a considerable bonus Alessandro Fisher, William Vann & the Navarra Quartet will perform On Wenlock Edge together with a complementary work, Portraits of a Mind by British composer Ian Venables.
Wednesday 19 October finds soprano Lotte Betts-Dean and pianist Natalie Burch performing Ukrainian composer Valentin Silvestrov, a late night slot for his Quiet Songs – and then on Sunday 23 October a day devoted to Schubert will revel in concerts from Birgid Steinberger & Julius Drake (Schubert and the Sounds of Vienna), then Werner Güra and Christoph Berner (Schubert ballads)
The Swedish Nightingale is a recital themed on the legendary Swedish soprano Jenny Lind, whose life and musical contacts will be explored by soprano Camilla Tilling and pianist Paul Rivinius on Tuesday 25 October. The next day, father and son duo – Christoph Prégardien and Julian Prégardien – will give a concert with Michael Gees, which promises to be a memorable encounter. Finally, regular festival guest Carolyn Sampson will give Music For A While on Friday 28 October, with her regular partner Joseph Middleton, while the festival will close with Dame Sarah Connolly singing music by Brahms, Schumann, Strauss and Mahler, alongside pianist Eugene Asti.
What a memorable three weeks it promises to be!