Dutchman Flies in to Save The Night and Provides Promising Opening for Leeds Lieder 2017

24/04/2017

leeds-lieder-festival-Yorkshire-art-song-music-festival-classical-songs-weekend-international-singers

 Schubert: Henk Neven (baritone), Joseph Middleton (piano). Leeds College of Music, Leeds. 21.4.2017. (CF)

SchubertDie Schöne Müllerin D.795

The 2017 Leeds Lieder Festival got underway on Friday night to what could easily have been an inauspicious start, since the star baritone Simon Keenlyside had to cancel due to sudden illness. Fortunately, the impressive Dutch baritone Henk Neven, a former BBC Radio 3 New Generation artist, was able to step in with a new programme at short notice.

The festival’s theme this year is ‘Songs of Travel’ and the planned concert with Keenlyside was to include Schubert’s Schwangesang, as well as songs from Sibelius and Vaughan Williams to suit this subject. In its place, and no doubt due to the short notice, Neven opted for Schubert’s first full song cycle Die Schöne Müllerin D.795. It provides a different sort of travel – the young miller’s personal metaphysical voyage of love from first nervous glances of the beloved to bitter heart pangs of jealously and, ultimately, suicidal despair. His faithful friend throughout this ontological journey is the brook beside the mill, whose babblings play out in eddying runs on the piano.

Neven has a strong stage presence and his voice grew in confidence as the cycle progressed, increasingly inhabiting the role of the miller. It was a tremendously persuasive performance, sensitive, thoughtful, and at times deeply moving. His pure top end puts me in mind of Wolfgang Holzmair in its yearning quality, heard to best effect in ‘Der Neugierige’ (‘Curiosity’), ‘Morgengruss’ (‘Morning Greetings’), and the ‘black pearl’ of the cycle, ‘Die liebe Farbe’ (‘The Favourite Colour’), where we already seem to hear the darkling sound-worlds of the late piano sonatas and Winterreise in the piano score. The only complaint I had was that I felt at times Neven was holding back in the more dramatic moments, say the repeated refrain of “Dein ist mein Herz und soll es ewig bleiben” (“Yours is my heart and so shall it remain forever!”) in ‘Ungeduld’ (‘Impatience’); where other baritones might explode and vent their desire or despair more viscerally, Neven chose to control these emotions. Perhaps this interpretive approach will change with time and at least he doesn’t overegg the agony, turning drama into melodrama, which can easily happen in Schubert.

Festival director Joseph Middleton provided typically sensitive and mature piano underpinnings and counterpoints to the miller’s joy, doubt, and final plight. Middleton  is fast earning his place among the star piano accompanists of today and yesteryear, and it was easy to envisage the pair recording this and other Schubert song cycles on disc. Tonight this partnership reached its apogee in the lullaby that crowns the 20-song cycle, a devastatingly beautiful notion, in which the brook croons a protective song to the miller who now lies submerged on the riverbed. All the nuance and poignancy of this song was brought out by the two performers, who by this stage were in perfect synchrony.

Neven only did one song as an encore, but what an intelligent selection it was: Am Flusse, D.766, a poem by Goethe in which the songs are said to have flowed into the ‘sea of oblivion’, a link made by the singer in connection with the previous songs he had just sung. It was a delicate way to end an engrossing recital.

So, despite the seemingly inauspicious start of Keenlyside’s absence, this ended up as a truly transporting opening concert from two marvellous talents, and heralds well for the concerts to come. Programme notes were generous and surely aided those in attendance who were new to the work. Finally, readers might like to know that many of the events are being live-streamed on the festival website and this concert is available to view here for a short time. I would whole-heartedly recommend a listen of this remarkable opening night.

Cornelius Fitz

Print Friendly

Comments

Leave a Reply

Recent Reviews

Facebook-button-1

Season Previews

__________________________________
  • NEW! Anna Netrebko and Yusif Eyvazov’s Return to London in May 2018 __________________________________
  • NEW! St John’s Smith Square announces its 2017/18 Season __________________________________
  • NEW! Bayreuther Festspiele 2017 – Operas, Symposium, Concerts, Cinema and More __________________________________
  • NEW! Summer Music in Cincinnati 2017 __________________________________
  • NEW! The Pierre Boulez Saal’s 2017/18 Season in Berlin __________________________________
  • NEW! The National Gilbert and Sullivan Opera Company – 2017 Season __________________________________
  • NEW! Roman River Music’s Summer Weekend – 14-16 July __________________________________
  • NEW! Birmingham and Beyond: Ex Cathedra in 2017/18 __________________________________
  • NEW! The Glyndebourne Opera Cup and Glyndebourne in 2018 __________________________________
  • NEW! The City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra’s 2017/18 Season __________________________________
  • NEW! English National Opera’s 2017/18 Season __________________________________
  • UPDATED! Culture and the Coast: Garsington’s Opera for All and Forthcoming Opera Screenings __________________________________
  • NEW! 2017 BBC Proms from Friday 14 July – Saturday 9 September __________________________________
  • NEW! Tonhalle Orchestra Zurich Announces Details of New Season 2017/2018 __________________________________
  • Subscribe to Review Summary Newsletter

    Reviews by Reviewer

    News and Featured Articles

    __________________________________
  • NEW! The National Theatre Dares You to Engage with This Show __________________________________
  • NEW! HOW TO CONTACT SEEN AND HEARD INTERNATIONAL __________________________________
  • NEW! CATRIONA MORISON WINS BBC CARDIFF SINGER OF THE WORLD 2017 __________________________________
  • NEW! ANGELA BROWNRIDGE IN CONVERSATION WITH ROBERT BEATTIE __________________________________
  • NEW! Tonhalle Orchestra Zurich Announces New Chief Conductor __________________________________
  • NEW! THE GREAT CANADIAN ARTISTS: AN INTERVIEW WITH VIOLINIST JAMES EHNES __________________________________
  • NEW! PIANIST KIRILL GERSTEIN IN CONVERSATION WITH GEOFFREY NEWMAN __________________________________
  • NEW! IN MEMORIAM LOUIS FRÉMAUX (1921-2017) __________________________________
  • NEW! Robert Farr reports on the 26th Annual Singing Competition Final – Elizabeth Harwood Memorial Award for Singers __________________________________
  • UPDATED IN MEMORIAM NICOLAI GEDDA (1925-2017) __________________________________
  • NEW! BARITONE MICHAEL VOLLE IN CONVERSATION WITH MICHAEL COOKSON __________________________________
  • Archives by Week

    Archives by Month

    Search S&H