In concert – Carolyn Sampson & Joseph Middleton: The Contrast

Carolyn Sampson (soprano, above), Joseph Middleton (piano, below)

Wigmore Hall, Friday 14 February 2020 (lunchtime)

Review and guide by Ben Hogwood
Photo credit Marco Borggreve

Once best known for her interpretations of Baroque music, Carolyn Sampson is revelling in the world of song. With musical partner Joseph Middleton painting pictures from the piano, she has made a number of attractive releases for the BIS label – of which The Contrast is the latest.

This Wigmore Hall concert doubled as the album launch event, and was programmed with a wide range of responses to settings of English text. The pair began with Sir William Walton’s multi-poet cycle A Song for the Lord Mayor’s Table, reminding us just how different London was when this was written in 1962. The balance was tricky in The Lord Mayor’s Table itself, where there is a lot going on in the piano part, but Sampson carried her line with verve. Her accent on Wapping Old Stairs was well judged for subtly comedic effect, while Holy Thursday cast a spell and Rhyme ended the cycle with a flourish.

The songs of Roger Quilter can really blossom in the right hands, and Sampson sang this selection of five beautifully. The flowing My Life’s Delight and softer By a Fountainside showed off her natural delivery, Middleton responding with lovingly caressed accompaniment. Dream Valley was a beautiful reverie as dappled sunlight shone across the Wigmore Hall, while the Arab Love Song was urgent and fleet-footed, while Fair House of Joy ended the selection with a winning smile.

Huw Watkins wrote his Five Larkin Songs for Sampson, and was present for this powerfully affecting performance. The challenge of setting Larkin’s occasionally bleak verse is realised with music of passion and dramatic impact, and as she said from the stage, Sampson clearly loves to sing the songs. The wandering piano line of Who called love conquering? contrasted with the awkward shifts in the soprano line, both of which were handled extremely well. Sampson’s ringing delivery brought expressive power to Love Songs in Age, as did her instinctive use of vibrato. The end of Larkin’s wry poem Money, ‘it is intensely sad’, left a strong aftertaste, while Dawn showed a hint of Britten in its setting. The delivery of the last line, ‘How strange it is for the heart to be loveless, and as cold as these’, made an impression with its completely (and deliberately) flat tone.

Finally we heard five songs from Frank Bridge, whose contribution in this area is still underrated. That is in spite of heartwarming songs such as Go not, happy day, which was full of smiles in this performance, bubbling over with good feeling. Adoration showed of a sumptuous vocal tone, while Come to me in my dreams could have been written for such a voice. Once again Middleton’s accompaniment was ideally weighted and phrased, the two combining for a magical and poignant encore of Bridge’s Yeats setting When You Are Old, powered by an achingly tender melody from the piano.

Repertoire

This concert contained the following music:

Walton A Song for the Lord Mayor’s Table (1962)
Quilter My Life’s Delight Op.12/2 (1908), By a Fountainside Op.12/6 (1908), Dream Valley Op.20/1 (1916), Arab Love Song Op.25/4 (1927), Fair House of Joy Op.12/7 (1908)
Watkins Five Larkin Songs (2009-10)
Bridge When most I wink (1901), Go not, happy day (1903), Adoration (1905), Come to me in my dreams (1906), Love went a-riding (1914)

Further listening & viewing

You can listen to the whole of the In Contrast release on Spotify here:

To hear clips and to purchase, In Contrast can be found on the Presto website

Wigmore Mondays – Lucie Horsch & Thomas Dunford: Music for Recorder and Lute

Lucie Horsch (recorder, above), Thomas Dunford (lute, below)

Wigmore Hall, Monday 10 February 2020 (lunchtime)

You can listen to this concert on the BBC Sounds app here (opens in a new window)

Review and guide by Ben Hogwood

The recorder does not appear to have great appeal or exposure to the concert-going public, yet with a few more concerts like this from Lucie Horsch and Thomas Dunford could change that perception very quickly indeed.

The Dutch player Horsch is still only 20, but she demonstrated incredible virtuosity and command of the four or five different instruments she called upon in this recital. Not only that but her musical instincts were extremely sound, her communication with equally stylish lute player Thomas Dunford borne of friendship and a shared enjoyment of the music. It said much that when the solo pieces were being performed, the instrumentalist not involved listened closely and often smiled in response to the phrases they heard.

The well-planned concert was packed with music from the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries, with a brief excursion to the 20th for a brave and brilliantly realised arrangement of Debussy’s Syrinx. That appeared fourth in a list of 11 pieces from no fewer than 10 composers, performed in four logical blocks.

Horsch and Dunford started together with the Sonata Seconda in stil moderno by Venetian composer Dario Castello (from 1:58 on the broadcast link). If you listen you will hear the purity of the recorder’s tone, on a soprano instrument, and the mottled sound of the lute which complements it ideally. It may sound as though Dunford is playing with a very relaxed air, but watching him confirmed there is a lot of work going on behind the scenes for the part to sound so instinctive. As the sonata unfolds here Horsch demonstrates her bravura in the faster music.

Dowland’s Preludium (7:31) follows, a subdued, slightly downcast piece for lute that works well as an introduction for Horsch’s own arrangement of the famous song Flow, my tears (12:19). Here the two communicated beautifully, even with the vocal line slightly tampered by the recorder’s limitations on producing vibrato.

This is followed by the Suite no.5 in F from the French composer Charles Dieupart, a set of six dance movements prefaced by an Ouverture (16:35). The dances are an Allemande (17:46) with an attractive lilt, then a lively and spiky Courante (20:54); both are countered by a slower Sarabande (22:11). Then comes a Gavotte with a spring in its step (24:24), a Menuet en rondeau (25:19) and finally a lively Gigue (26:46), where Dunford’s lute strumming gives a good snap to the rhythms.

We then jump forward over 200 years for Horsch’s own arrangement of Debussy’s famous solo flute piece Syrinx (28:48). This is a remarkable performance, given the definition Lucie gets from the very difficult lower notes on her recorder. Here the subdued but sonorous tones take on an exotic and faintly South American air.

She turns to a slightly smaller instrument for the Philidor, a Sonata in D minor with four movements. It begins with a slower introduction (32:16), an intricate fast movement with the players swapping melodies (34:33), an elegant Courante (35:37) and a much more deliberate Les notes égales et détachez (36:45), which blossoms into a lively fast section.

For the next sequence of three pieces we get an idea of how far the performers have looked for this programme, with a really nice blend of moods and colours. Les Voix Humaines (40:26), an arrangement of a piece for solo viol by Marin Marais, is subdued but stylish in Dunford’s solo lute performance. That blends into the enchantment of François Couperin’s nightingale, strongly evoked by Horsch in Le rossignol-en-amour (44:00). Horsch then gives a short but moving dance from Dutch composer Jacob van Eyck (46:35). Recercadas by Diego Ortiz (48:47) is a florid response, with the lute strummed like a guitar. Then comes the remarkably modern sounding world of Joan Ambrosio Dalza’s Calate ala spagnola (51:30), with repeated notes anticipating tremolos in much later guitar music, brilliantly played by Dunford before the music fades away.

Finally the Marais Couplets de folies (54:48), a set of variations on the famous tune La Folia. Dunford’s lute sets out the theme before the recorder enters. Its lines grow in difficulty, and there were some eye-popping moments of virtuoso brilliance from Lucie Horsch here. With the two performers sat together they still cut a relaxed presence, as though both were performing in your own front room. An unnamed encore, unfortunately dropping off the end of the broadcast, encapsulated the bright and instinctive music of the previous hour.

Repertoire

This concert contained the following music (with timings on the BBC Sounds broadcast in brackets):

Castello Sonata Seconda in stil modern (published 1629) (1:58)
Dowland Preludium (7:31); Flow my tears (12:19) (both 1600)
Dieupart Suite No. 5 in F major (publ. 1701) (16:35)
Debussy Syrinx (1913) (28:48)
Philidor Sonata in D minor (publ. 1712) (32:16)
Marais Les Voix Humaines (publ. 1701) (40:26)
François Couperin Le rossignol-en-amour (publ. 1722) (44:00)
van Eyck Lavolette (publ. 1646) (46:35)
Ortiz Recercadas (unknown, 16th century) (48:47)
Dalza Calate ala spagnola (unknown, 16th century) (51:30)
Marais Suite in D minor – Couplets de folies (Les folies d’Espagne) (publ. 1701) (54:48)

Further listening & viewing

The music from this concert can be heard in the playlist below, with some of the repertoire appearing on Horsch and Dunford’s most recent release Baroque Journey. The original versions of Dowland’s Flow, my tears and Marais’ Le Voix Humaines are included.

Baroque Journey is itself a very enjoyable listen, showing off the complementary talents of both of the soloists in this concert:

Meanwhile the music of Charles Dieupart can be explored in the company of Henry Purcell, both composers’ music for recorder making up this album from Hugo Reyne and La Simphonie Du Marais:

Finally a link to the remarkable music of Marin Marais and the second book of his Pièces De Viole, played by the masterful Jordi Savall:

Wigmore Mondays – Katharina Konradi & Eric Schneider : Songs by Schubert, Rachmaninov & Richard Strauss

Katharina Konradi (soprano), Eric Schneider (piano)

Wigmore Hall, Monday 3 February 2020 (lunchtime)

You can listen to this concert on the BBC Sounds app here (opens in a new window)

Review and guide by Ben Hogwood
Picture (c) BBC

The BBC’s New Generation Artists scheme has been running for 20 years, and the anniversary was marked by Wigmore Hall over the weekend prior to this concert. Graduates from the scheme are an indication of its value, and you only have to look at the first intake of artists to see how valuable it has been. Baritone Christopher Maltman, violinist Lisa Batiashvili, cellist Alban Gerhardt, pianist Steven Osborne and the Belcea String Quartet were among the first intake back in 2000 – and all are right at the top of their game as classical performers today.

Soprano Katharina Konradi is one of the most recent recruits to the scheme. Born in Kyrgyzstan and of German nationality, she is the first soprano from her country to have a career as a Lied, concert and opera singer. On the basis of this recital, given with regular partner Eric Schneider, hers will be a name to remember.

Konradi has a very fresh tone – unforced, expressive, and beautifully rounded in places. She resists the urge to sing too loudly, which for the purposes of this recital worked beautifully in the hushed moments of the Strauss and Schubert songs particularly, if not the more climactic moments of the Rachmaninov numbers.

Schubert, the father of the modern song, provided the first three numbers, carefully chosen and beautifully delivered. To pick a small selection from the 630 or so in his output is difficult to say the least, but the trio showed a brighter outlook than we normally hear in the concert hall.

Suleika II (2:06) receives a measured performance, gaining pace as the singer hurries to her beloved, while An mein Herz (To my heart) (6:44) is riddled with anxious piano repetitions, Schneider’s restless movement between major and minor keys dominating the mood. Konradi floats serenely above the turbulence. Suleika I (10:10), first of the songs Schubert wrote for Beethoven’s Leonora muse Anna Milder, carries a vivid depiction of the East Wind and the ‘fresh motion of its wings’, brought to rest after a lovely, floated final verse.

From Schubert to Rachmaninov, and a quartet of songs fresh with the promise of spring. The well-known Lilacs (17:26) is brightly voiced, then Konradi finds the top notes for Beloved, let us fly (19:15) with relative ease, the tumult of the city left behind. Meanwhile the beautiful, soaring line of How fair this spot (21:42), with its effortless top notes, is countered by the wordless but highly expressive Vocalise (23:53), one of Rachmaninov’s best-known works.

Richard Strauss is still not as well-known as a song composer as he might be, possibly on account of the difficulty of his works for singer and pianist alike. This was a very satisfying selection, however, and on the broadcast you can here that on Du meines Herzens Krönelein (You, my heart’s coronet) (30:42) the singer is at ease with his style. She shows off a wide range in Das Rosenband (The rose garland) (32:47), where Schneider does well to keep pace with the changes of mood and harmony, while both find the soft, rapturous heart of Glückes genug (Abundant happiness) (35:52). The famous Morgen!… (Tomorrow!)… (38:25) is where we really get a glimpse of Konradi’s potential as an interpreter, for she refuses to over-sing, her restrained approach securing a beautiful purity of tone.

Back to Schubert for the final three songs, and again some less-experienced positivity. Im Abendrot (Sunset glow) (44:08) is one of his ‘stiller’ songs, nicely observed here, while Lied des Florio (Florio’s song) (47:38) is graceful, apart from the pain of the higher notes describing the bittersweet love of the subject. Delphine (51:05) is also a double edged sword, strongly characterised and with a powerful finish where Konradi rises to a great height.

Repertoire

This concert contained the following music (with timings on the BBC Sounds broadcast in brackets):

Schubert Suleika II D717 (written in 1821) (2:06); An mein Herz D860 (1825) (6:44); Suleika I D720 (1821) (10:10)
Rachmaninov Lilacs Op.21/5 (1902) (17:26); Beloved, let us fly Op.26/5 (1906) (19:15); How fair this spot Op.21/7 (1902) (21:42), Vocalise Op.34/14 (1915) (23:53)
Richard Strauss Du meines Herzens Krönelein Op.21/2 (1889) (30:42), Das Rosenband Op.36/1 (1897-98) (32:47), Glückes genug Op.37/1 (1898) (35:52), Morgen!…Op.27/4 (1894) (38:25)
Schubert Im Abendrot D799 (44:08); Lied des Florio D857/2 (47:38); Lied der Delphine D857/1 (all 1825) (51:05)

After the Radio 3 transmission we were treated to a well-placed Schubert encore. The pointers towards Mahler were clearly audible in Nacht und Träume, another song from 1825.

Further listening & viewing

The music from this concert can be heard in the playlist below, including versions of the Strauss songs by Katharina herself.

For further listening to the songs of Schubert, Carolyn Sampson and Joseph Middleton are assured guides, in this attractive collection recorded for BIS recently:

The songs of Richard Strauss certainly repay repeated listening. While the complete works have been recorded on Hyperion, a rather good collection – again on BIS – can be heard here from soprano Camilla Tilling and pianist Paul Rivinius:

It’s only a month since Arcana was enthusing about another soprano singing Rachmaninov at the Wigmore Hall. Louise Alder and Joseph Middleton delivered a wonderful recital based on their new album Lines written during a Sleepless Night, which can be heard here:

Wigmore Mondays – Jennifer Pike & Martin Roscoe: Dani Howard world premiere & Elgar Violin Sonata

Jennifer Pike (violin, above), Martin Roscoe (piano, below)

Wigmore Hall, Monday 27 January 2020 (lunchtime)

You can listen to this concert on the BBC Sounds app here (opens in a new window)

Review and guide by Ben Hogwood

How refreshing to witness a world premiere brighten up an incredibly dull January day. Dualism, by British composer Dani Howard, is a new piece by violin and piano based on the conflict between ambition and relaxation that we experience on an increasing scale in our everyday lives. With the premise in hand it was easy to spot the ambitious bits – the piano’s energy propelling the music forward initially, the violin swept along – and the much-needed relaxation, where the music paused rather beautifully to take in its surroundings.

Because of these moments Dualism (2:39) was easy to relate to, and its tonal language, with wide open textures in the piano part, brought with it thoughts of the space achieved by the music of Copland and John Adams. Howard created some buoyant harmonies to go with the relatively angular melodic writing but the piece had depth too, an ongoing tension between the power for which it strove and the respite it also needed. The ultimate winner was difficult to call over the nine and a half minutes, Jennifer Pike and Martin Roscoe finding a balance between the elements and each other in an attractive performance.

Elgar’s Violin Sonata followed, an important work in his output as it effectively signals the beginning of his late, shadowy style. Here is where the composer’s work takes on an appreciably darker tinge, though each of the four main works in the period – the Sonata, String Quartet, Piano Quintet and Cello Concerto – each contain moments of light despite all being set in a minor key.

The Sonata is an elusive work, but Pike and Roscoe found its essence and its tunefulness. The first movement (2:39) was the strongest, and you can hear on the broadcast the strength of feeling immediately transmitted through the long sweeps of violin melody. The first theme is passionate, but soon the wisps of violin melody (16:28) indicate the dappled light of autumn.

The second movement (23:38) is a Romance, reaching levels of intensity that speak of sadness and bitter personal experience. It begins with a spirit of unrest, and the light humour forces a short-lived smile before Elgar retreats to the shadows once again. Pike and Roscoe apply a lightness of touch that really suits the dance-like figures that ultimately never get off the ground.

The final movement (31:08) is much broader in its dynamic reach and Pike relishes the return to the sweeping style of the first movement, her broad bow strokes bringing beauty to the melody. Meanwhile Roscoe successfully clarifies the busy piano part, again judging its volume ideally. A fine performance – bittersweet but ultimately resolving positively.

The pair finished with a rustic Theme and Variations from Miklos Rózsa, the composer of such epic film scores as Ben-Hur, Spellbound and A Double Life. Rózsa had a firm grounding in classical forms, writing a Violin Concerto for Jascha Heifetz in 1953 among numerous orchestral pieces. The Hungarian Peasant Song in this concert found him inspired by the folk music of his native country, and more specifically the Mátra region – where he wrote 14 variations on a rustic, outdoor theme. Pike had a lot of fun with these but found the emotional centre too, right from the unaccompanied theme itself (42:34).

The piece progressed through long, powerful lines, bold double stopping or short, twanged pizzicato (plucking). Roscoe’s counterpoint to this was a delight, knowing exactly when to hold back or push on, the pair navigating the very different moods of Rózsa’s variations before bringing them all back together at the end.

Repertoire

This concert contained the following music (with timings on the BBC Sounds broadcast in brackets):

Dani Howard Dualism (2019, world premiere) (2:39)
Elgar Violin Sonata in E minor Op.82 (1918) (14:28)
Rózsa Variations on a Hungarian Peasant Song Op.4 (1929) (42:34)

A well-chosen encore came in the form of Elgar’s Salut d’Amour (54:00), this orchestral favourite working beautifully in reduced form and given the appropriate level of indulgence by Pike.

Further listening & viewing

The Elgar and Rózsa music from this concert can be heard in the recorded versions below, including a classic account from early in Nigel Kennedy’s career, with pianist Peter Pettinger:

Martin Roscoe has recorded the Elgar with Tasmin Little previously, but that version is not available on Spotify. However Jennifer Pike has recorded the orchestral version of the Rózsa Variations, and they form part of a highly rewarding disc devoted to the composer’s orchestral works, including a substantial Cello Concerto:

Jennifer Pike’s most recent album The Polish Violin comes highly recommended, a homage to her Polish roots. Based mainly on the exotic works for violin and piano by Szymanowski, it is brilliantly played and really well programmed, with works by Karłowicz and Wieniawski also included:

Finally a playlist of those four late Elgar works – the Violin Sonata, String Quartet, Piano Quintet and Cello Concerto, in order of publication:

Britten Sinfonia at Lunch – Katie Bray sings Freya Waley-Cohen’s Spell Book @ Wigmore Hall

Katie Bray (mezzo-soprano), Britten Sinfonia Soloists [Jacqueline Shave, Miranda Dale (violins), Clare Finnimore (viola), Caroline Dearnley (cello), Joy Farrall (clarinet), John Lenehan (piano)]

Leclair Trio Sonata in D major Op.2/8 (1728)
Mahler arr. Waley-Cohen Rückert-Lieder (1901-2, arr. 2019)
Lutosławski Bukoliki (1952 arr. 1962)
Waley-Cohen Spell Book (2019)

Wigmore Hall, London
Wednesday 22 January 2020

Photo credits Patrick Allen (Freya Waley-Cohen); Tim Dunk (Katie Bray)

Review by Ben Hogwood

The previews for this concert were intriguing. As well as a performance of a new arrangement of Mahler’s Ruckert-Lieder, we were to be treated to Spell Book, the world premiere tour of a new dramatic work by Freya Waley-Cohen.

Inspired by the composer’s encounter with Rebecca Tamás’ collection of poems WITCH, the song cycle was written for and performed by mezzo-soprano Katie Bray, singing with an ensemble of string quartet, clarinet and piano. In terms of forces used this gave the work a similar profile to Schoenberg’s famous melodrama Pierrot Lunaire. The music fulfilled Waley-Cohen’s wish that it would place us under a spell, as the book had clearly done for the composer. She brought it to life with music of luminosity and captivating drama.

She was helped considerably by Bray (above), who held the attention effortlessly with a commanding performance. The first and most substantial song, spell for Lilith, found her word emphasis in the observation that Lilith is ‘such a bad girl’ setting the expressive tone. The music swept up to impressive heights, Bray’s voice stopping the listener in their tracks while simultaneously nailing the acoustic of the hall.

Waley-Cohen’s response to the text was often vivid, the instruments either offering weighty support to the words or dropping away under their feet. The observation that ‘Lilith, you have a great body’ received appropriately slinky contours, while the contrast of suspension and movement towards the end led to a delirious postlude from John Lenehan’s piano.

The following two songs were more compact but retained Lilith’s intensity. spell for sex had a soft, alluring vocalise that was also remote, while the spell for logic was much more active, pockets of instrumental music bumping into the vocal line but never overwhelming it. The open-ended challenge to the audience was effective, as was the relatively sudden finish, concluding a mysterious and strangely euphoric piece. The spell had indeed been cast.

Spell Book was complemented by Waley-Cohen’s arrangement of Mahler’s Rückert Lieder. In this regard she was bravely nailing her colours to the mast alongside the intimidating figure of Schoenberg, whose arrangement of the composer’s Lieder eines fahrenden gesellen (Songs of a Wayfarer) for chamber ensemble around 100 years ago is still occasionally performed. The ensemble here, replicating that for Spell Book, was cut from similar cloth.

This performance was a qualified success, part of the fault for that lying with the listener and a long-held familiarity with the piano and orchestral versions of Rückert-Lieder. There were however some imaginative qualities here, particularly the technique of doubling instruments at a distance of two octaves. John Lenehan‘s high piano right hand therefore acquired a ghostly shadow in the form of Caroline Dearnley‘s low cello, and this technique was used to create an enchanting, wispy half-light.

It also suited Bray’s range and performance, and while her interpretation felt like it may still be in progress – again the problem of over-familiarity rearing its head – she grew into the songs as they unfolded. The famous Um mitternacht was an inevitable highlight, while the clarinet lines in Blicke mir nicht in die Lieder! (Do not look into my songs!) were beautifully rendered by Joy Farrall. The final song, the rapt Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen (I am lost to the world) was beautifully controlled if not quite reaching peak intensity.

Prior to the song cycles we heard the Trio Sonata in D major from Jean-Marie Leclair. It made a nice change to hear this music on modern instruments, the program illustrating how the Trio Sonata was in fact a predecessor of the Piano Trio. Jackie Shave, Caroline Dearnley and John Lenehan clearly enjoyed their time with this piece, and Leclair’s elevation of the cello to much more than mere accompaniment found the two string players engaged in rewarding dialogue.

In between the song collections Dearnley teamed up with viola player Clare Finnimore for Lutoslawski’s six Bukoliki, delectable folk-inspired miniatures originally conceived for piano but subsequently arranged by the composer. Lasting little more than a minute, each one was beautifully formed and strongly expressive, the string players enjoying the melodic ornaments and the rustic sweeps of the bow. The addition of subtle discords created a haunting quality to some of this music, pointing the way to Lutoslawski’s sonic innovations to come.

The Britten Sinfonia’s At Lunch series continues to impress with its imaginative programming and opportunities for contemporary composers. Both aims were realised here in a richly rewarding concert.

Further reading and listening

To discover more about Freya Waley-Cohen, you can visit her website here or listen to her music on Soundcloud here. Meanwhile the Spotify link below offers a chance to hear her Permutations, as played by her sister, violinist Tamsin.