Edinburgh International Festival 2011 (8) – Sensual Duparc and monochrome Schumann from Sophie Koch

United KingdomUnited Kingdom  Sopie Koch sings Schumann, Liszt, Debussy and Duparc : Sophie Koch (mezzo), Sophie Raynaud (piano). Queen’s Hall, 22.08.2011. (SRT)

Schumann’s Opus 39 Liederkries may not have the narrative strength that unites the great Dichterliebe cycle, but it should still carry us on a journey of passion, love and loss. Sophie Koch seemed unable to plum its emotional depths this morning. Her voice, normally so supple and expressive, here sounded cold and static, unable or unwilling to respond to the subtleties of the text.

The Eichendorff poems which Schumann sets for this cycle derive their power from their ability to turn on a pinhead; songs which begin in joy or the celebration of nature often end in terror or regret thanks to a well-placed line. Koch’s monochrome readings meant that, in the majority of cases, these subtleties were lost. She warmed a little more to Liszt’s more vigorously pictorial settings but throughout she couldn’t shake off the impression of a fish out of water.

Naturally, she was much more at home in the French idiom of Debussy and Duparc. The heady sensualism of Duparc’s settings helped Koch to find the opulence which makes her voice so beautiful on the operatic stage, particularly the long, winding phrases of La vie antérieure, and the simmering eroticism of Debussy’s Chansons de Bilitis matched her vocal palette best of all. It’s a shame that she couldn’t find similar responsiveness for the German songs, though.

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