Ravel Rarities Provide Mixed Emotions at Leeds Lieder 2017

24/04/2017

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

 Ravel: Clara Mouriz (mezzo soprano), Benedict Nelson (baritone), Joseph Middleton (piano), David Moseley (flute), Philip Higham (cello). Leeds College of Music, Leeds. 21.4.2017. (CF)

Ravel, ‘Une Rare Émotion’: Histoires NaturellesVocalise en forme de habanera; ShéhérazadeSur lherbeDon Quichotte à DulcinéeChansons Madécasses

Like many composers, Ravel’s chamber oeuvre tends to get boiled down to a few key piano works – Gaspard de la NuitJeux deauLe Tombeau de Couperin, leading his song-based repertoire to be overlooked on concert programmes. This made it especially welcome to see a whole recital dedicated to these rarities for baritone and mezzo with piano and other instrumental accompaniment.

The concert was preceded by a study event with French musical scholar Roger Nichols. Since the concert was being held at the Leeds College of Music, this was not only a laudable idea but shows the desire of the festival to reach out to new and hopefully younger audiences – and thus was free to Under 26s and full-time students. If classical music is to have a long-term future, this is exactly what it needs to be doing.

The programme was ripe for the festival theme ‘Songs of Travel’, with its references to French caricatures and Oriental tableaux, though the latter texts risk sounding dangerously dated in 2017. Benedict Nelson opened the concert with Histoires Naturelles (1906)a setting of five poems by Jules Renard fable-like poems which anthropomorphise animals such as a cricket and peacock to humorous effect. The key here is to draw out that humour, something Nelson achieved admirably, winning over the audience and eliciting laughter in all the right places. This is no mean feat, and his French diction and characterisation – knowing looks, raised eyebrows – were as amiable as they were effective.

Nelson then made way for mezzo-soprano Clara Mouriz, who opened her set with Ravel’s vocalise study in the Spanish form, the habañera. It was a brave way to start but whether it was a bravura performance rather depended on one’s love of the work’s wordless insistence, something I found rather wearying. Mouriz certainly entered into the spirit of the piece with vim and I’m sure succeeded for those partial to its Spanish mood. This was followed by Shéhérazade, a three-song composition whose first song – ‘Asie’ – dominates length-wise. Its heady imagery of the Orient is the stuff of literary cliché today – ‘silk turbans’, ‘ruthless merchants with shifty eyes’, ‘pot-bellied mandarins’ – and occasionally problematic (‘skin yellow as oranges’). In these works, a feel for the French is absolutely key, something Sarah Connolly achieved to such winning effect at the festival launch in November (review here). Mouriz suffered somewhat by comparison in her diction and tone, and as a result I felt emotionally detached from the songs in spite of her obvious engagement. Thus, the moving ‘L’Indifférent’ remained just that for me, something not helped by the poor enunciation of the opening lines. Just as in this earlier concert, Middleton’s piano work in the Ravel, which is as digitally-taxing as in the solo piano works, provided an enchantingly opulent harmonic richness to the vocal line. The link between singer and pianist, however, was not as engaging as with Connolly, but surely Mouriz will mature as a singer of French, and certainly showed her impressive dramatic capabilities later on.

Nelson then returned for ‘Sur l’herbe’ and Don Quichotte à Dulciné(1932-33). His warm, bosky voice again worked its charms in these caricature sketches of French folk and dance rhythms, again drew laughter from the audience. Nelson is a great talent and character-singer with a real feel for these Ravel works, and I’d gladly sit through the same recital again.

The concert ended with Chanson Madécasses, a trio of Madagascan songs composed from1925-26, featuring Mouriz accompanied by piano, flute and cello. This unusual mixture provided some astonishing harmonic results that could easily be mistaken for a contemporary piece. Mouriz came into her own in these ethereal and at times starkly dramatic works; her opening attack in the political (and postcolonial avant le mot) ‘Aoua!’ was astonishing in its vividness and theatricality, and all three songs were successful, both as a result of the sensitive accompaniment by Middleton, David Mosely and Philip Higham, but also because of Mouriz’s passionate commitment to these strange songs.

Programme notes included full translations of the songs but no biographical details. 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. For any Ravel lovers curious about these rarely-programmed works, a listen is certainly recommended.

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