Philip Langridge: The Legacy Lives on at Cheltenham 2012

United KingdomUnited Kingdom  Schubert, Mahler, Chopin, Silvestri, Duparc, Britten: Philip Langridge Mentoring Scheme Showcase, Pittville Pump Room, Cheltenham. 10.7.2012 (RJ)

Schubert: Sonata in A minor D821: Philip Highnam, Sam Armstrong
: Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen: Kathryn Rudge, James Baillieu
: Preludes 16-24, Op 8
Silvestri: Bacchanal: Alexandra Dariescu
: Au pays où se fait la guerre
: Cabaret Songs: Helen Sherman, James Baillieu

The death of Philip Langridge in March 2010 not only robbed Britain of one of its finest tenors but also of a keen supporter of young musicians entering the profession. He was a trustee of both the Royal Philharmonic Society and the Young Classical Artists Trust, and both organizations have pooled their resources to launch the Philip Langridge Mentoring scheme for young musicians with the support of the Langridge family. This Cheltenham Festival event was designed to showcase the talents of beneficiaries of the scheme.

The first of the young musicians, cellist Philip Highnam, has been mentored by Steven Isserlis who was present in the audience prior to his residency at the Festival. Together with Sam Armstrong he brought a gentle lyrical touch to Schubert’s Arpeggione Sonata with just a hint of melancholy – and this unrushed, expansive mood continued into the Adagio. No mention was made of pianist Sam Armstrong being part of the mentoring scheme, but his playing was exemplary, his rapport with the cellist first rate.  In the rondo there were opportunities to let the duo to let their hair down engage in some rhythmic romps, but there was nothing forced or showy about the performance; it seemed to come close to the wishes of the composer.

I was surprised that the next artist, Kathryn Rudge should choose to sing Mahler’s Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen as her contribution to the evening. The journeyman of the songs is, after all, a hapless young man, and I’d have preferred to have a young man (hapless or otherwise) performing it. However, she is used to performing trouser roles, such as Cherubino, on the opera stage and since her mentor (and adviser) is Ann Murray, who am I to object?

Singing a recital is rather different from singing opera, and I felt this Liverpuddlian lass was forgetting she was in a recital hall and not in an opera house for the first song Wenn mein Schatz Hochzeit macht. But she did adjust her volume for the second. Her operatic abilities were used to good effect in the dramatic start to Ich hab ein glühend Messer, and as the excitement subsided she managed the transition to introspection and total dejection with skill. By the end of the fouth song I felt she had developed into a lieder singer.

Alexandra Dairescu was amazing. This vivacious Romanian pianist has already cut her first CD, and possesses a formidable technique; so what better way to show it off than in the Chopin Preludes.  She started off dangerously with No 16 marked presto fuoco – and presto fuoco is what she delivered; and there was more of the same in No 21 (molto agitato) and the allegro appassionato of the final prelude. Yet she proved herself capable of far more than mere pianistic pyrotechnics, showing her expressive skills in No 20 in C minor (largo) and the ability to make the piano sing in No 21 in B flat (cantabile). She finished with Bacchanale by one of her compatriots, Constantin Silvestri. Does the name ring a bell? Yes, he was the legendary conductor of the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra and judging by this piece was no mean composer either. The Bacchanale was jolly, exuberant and wildly virtuosic, and Alexandra’s performance of it should serve as her calling card in the best circles.

I was intrigued to learn that her mentor was Imogen Cooper, a pianist surely of a quite different stamp? It would be fascinating to be a fly on the wall at one of their mentoring meetings.

The final performer of the evening was a mezzo-soprano whose mentor is not a singer, but an opera director – Stephen Langridge, son of Philip. My eyes lit up when I saw that Australian Helen Sherman had chosen to open with a song by Henri Duparc – a composer who wrote only a few songs, but all of them perfectly conceived. Au pays où se fait la guerre depicts the anguish of a lady in her castle awaiting the return of her lover from the battlefield. Her hopes are raised when she hears footsteps, but are dashed again when she discovers it is only her page. It was impossible not to be caught up in the pathos and sadness of the situation which Helen Sherman communicated so sensitively.

She then descended from her tower (figuratively) to become a Bridget Jones type figure in Britten’s Cabaret Songs, his settings of words by Auden. So after starting with Mahler’s hapless young wayfarer the recital finished with a hapless young woman asking “Tell me the truth about love”! These are witty songs, not easy by any means, and Helen Sherman delivered them with a twinkle in her eye. She was well supported by accompanist James Baillieu who also had a twinkle in his fingers.

Roger Jones

The concert was broadcast live on BBC Radio 4 on 10.7.2012 and can be heard for the next few days on the BBC i-player and other devices.