Edinburgh International Festival 2011 (6) – Keenlyside and Martineau bring passion and warmth to a varied song recital

United KingdomUnited Kingdom  Simon Keenlyside sings Mahler, Duparc, Debussy, R Strauss and Schubert: Simon Keenlyside (baritone), Malcolm Martineau (piano). Usher Hall, 19.8.2011. (SRT)

Coming to Simon Keenlyside so soon after a comparable recital by Bo Skovhus was like moving from the fog into glorious sunshine. Where Skovhus sounded uncertain and lacking in focus, Keenlyside relaxed into singing of glorious confidence. His Mahler segment, covering much of the same material as Skovhus, showed his interpretative skills at their finest, sardonic and witty in St Anthony’s sermon to the fish, expansive and lyrical in the Rückert songs. He invested the youthful songs, like Ich ging mit Lust and Frühlingsmorgen, with all the passion and warmth of the mature composer and he showed marvellous breath control in the long-spun phrases of the Wunderhorn trifle, Wer hat dies Liedlein erdacht.

Outstanding technique was also on display for a marvellous set of Schubert songs, especially the astonishing Goethe setting of Prometheus, and he crowned the recital with a wonderful reading of Im Walde, one of the composer’s most extraordinary songs.

Excellent technique was also in evidence for the altogether more muscular settings of Strauss, more creamy tone matching the complex melodic language of the piano, brilliantly played by Malcolm Martineau. The ardent longing of Befreit sat a little uncomfortably next to the heady fin-de-siècle imagery of Rosenband, but that endlessly beautful farewell showed Keenlyside at his best, suggesting great depths beneath the simple surface, and achieving extraordinary pathos in the final cry of O Glück!

If anything, though, it was the French selection that showed him at his finest. The richness of the open vowels fitted the velvety beauty of his voice like a glove, and he was excellent at expressing the barely repressed erotic tension in Duparc’s Phidylé. Nor was he afraid to tap into the touch of the Music-Hall about the Debussy songs, and Martineau also seemed to relish the fun of these accompaniments while summoning playing of incredible beauty for the descending thirds of Nuit d’étoiles. A superb recital from an extraordinary pairing.

The Edinburgh International Festival runs until 4th September in a range of venues across the city. A selection of performances will be reviewed in these pages.

Simon Thompson