Poulenc and Turina Songs Energise Mezzo Brueggergosman

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GermanyGermany Ravel, Britten, Wagner, Poulenc, Turina: Measha Brueggergosman (mezzo-soprano) and Justus Zeyen (piano), Palais im Großen Garten, Dresden, Germany, 27.5.2013 (MC)

Ravel: Shéhérazade
Britten: On this Island, song cycle, Op. 11,
Wagner: Wesendonck Lieder,
Poulenc:  Hôtel from Banalités,
L’anguille from Quatre poèmes de Guillaume Apollinaire,
Violon from Fiançailles pour rire
C’est ainsi que tu es from Métamorphoses
Voyage à Paris from Banalités,
Turina: Tres Sonetos, song cycle, Op 54,

Measha Brueggergosman, photo Mat Dunlap
Measha Brueggergosman, photo Mat Dunlap

Since its release in 2007 I have had mezzo-soprano Measha Brueggergosman’s release ‘Surprise’ – a collection of cabaret songs by Schoenberg, Satie and Bolcom played by the BBC Symphony Orchestra under David Robertson. This was however the first time I had attended one of her song recitals and it promised to be a mouth watering prospect. In the attractive setting of the Palais im Großen Garten, Dresden the actual recital room was upstairs at the baroque palace in a large rectangular room with the plaster removed down to the bare red brick walls. It was a sell out recital with extra seats put out at the sides and from where I was sat around 7 rows from the front the acoustic in the room was most acceptable.

With the recital having to start a minute or two behind schedule Measha Brueggergosman and her accompanist Justus Zeyen swiftly appeared on the stage and burst into Ravel’s Shéhérazade before some of the audience had time to settle into their seats. This substantial cycle of three songs to a Tristan Klingsor text usually lasts around seventeen minutes in performance and was certainly a challenging work with which to open. Nicely in tune Brueggergosman revealed her noticeably warm smoky voice, evocative of warmer climes, which seemed in contrast to Dresden’s unseasonably chilly and breezy weather. Dressed in a striking long green dress the Canadian mezzo tucked herself into the curve of the Steinway piano and barely moved apart from her facial expressions yet she definitely had a stage presence and was able to deliver a distinctly comforting feeling to her singing. Her voice although dark and smoky in the low registers lightens considerably in colour as she rises through her register. Curiously, however, something felt missing.

Initially the concert programme was to include the set of four early Cabaret Songs by Benjamin Britten but this was changed to his cycle of five songs On this Island to a text by his friend W.H. Auden, no doubt included to mark the hundredth anniversary of Britten’s birth. I hadn’t heard this cycle before and in truth Brueggergosman’s interpretation, although sung with reasonable expressive, didn’t feel especially memorable. Maybe I will have to hear the cycle again to gain rewards. I formed an opinion that Brueggergosman’s diction seemed a touch drowsy seeming to slide from one word into another.

After the interval the major work of the evening was Wagner’s splendid Wesendonck Lieder an apt choice to mark the bicentenary of the great composer’s birth. The five work score is the sumptuous fruit of Wagner’s short lived relationship with his muse Mathilde Wesendonck who provided the text, the wife of a wealthy Swiss merchant. Looking reasonably assured Brueggergosman still tucked into the curve of the piano sang the cycle competently enough but the quality of the rather lacklustre performance didn’t come close to sending a shiver down the spine like the finest singers, such asMartha Mödl, Astrid Varnay, Kirsten Flagstad and more recently Jonas Kaufmann, achieve.

In the final quarter of the recital Brueggergosman chose not to sing the Hugo Wolf and Joseph Marx songs that had initially been programmed and selected a number of vibrantly colourful songs – four from Poulenc and three by Turina. Suddenly it became clear that with the previous songs Brueggergosman had been rushing; maybe it was caused by nerves I don’t know. Now with the Poulenc and Turina songs she came into her own as if she had suddenly become energised; even her arms began to move slightly. Noticeably the mezzo’s expression lit up and she instinctively began taking as long as she wanted, relishing every single word of the texts. Her diction improved and she found the exuberance to noticeably broaden her dynamic range. Responding with real enthusiasm the audience was treated to two splendid encore pieces the first Amor, a cabaret song by William Bolcom, followed by an ardent rendition of a Negro spiritual.

Michael Cookson