A Royal Conclusion to Oxford’s Successful Lieder Festival

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Oxford Lieder Festival 10 – Schubert, Strauss, Mahler. Kate Royal (soprano), Sholto Kynoch (piano): St John the Evangelist Church, Oxford 26.10.2013. (CR)

Schubert: An Silvia, D891
Romanze aus Rosamunde, D797
An den Mond I, D259
Rastlose Liebe, D138
Heimliches Lieben, D922
Im Frühling, D882
An die Musik, D547
An die Nachtigall, D497
Abendstern, D806
Frühlingsglaube, D686
Lied der Delphine, D857

Richard Strauss: Ich trage meine Minne, Op 32, No 1
Das Rosenband, Op 36, No 1
Einerlei, Op 69 No 3
September (from Vier letzte Lieder)

Mahler: Frühlingsmorgen
Scheiden und Meiden
Ich atmet’ einen linden Duft
Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen


For the final recital in this year’s Oxford Lieder Festival, Kate Royal and Sholto Kynoch offered as varied and instructive a choice of German song as any that has been presented this year. To begin there was a generous selection of Schubert, looking ahead also to next year’s Festival when Schubert’s entire output of songs will be performed. Royal’s was a bright soprano voice, filling the sizeable church in which the recital took place effortlessly and without strain. She therefore gave a notably sparkling account of An Silvia but also managed to make the melody of Heimliches Lieben sound as though it floated over the piano’s triplet accompaniment despite lying quite high up in the vocal register. Although the tone of Rastlose Liebe was appropriately assertive, she daintily evoked in the music the snowflakes to which the poem refers. She showed winning sensitivity too in the delicately wrought chromaticism which unexpectedly appears at the end of the even-numbered verses in An den Mond and in her judiciously realised rubato at the end of Romanze thereby increasing the intensity of the song’s sentiment.

At times though her voice was a little too full of vibrato – both wide and fast – which tended to spoil the sublime simplicity of Schubert’s melodies. It was certainly welcome in the Strauss and Mahler, and to enhance the dramatic character and almost coloratura lines of Schubert’s Lied der Delphine, an aria in all but name. But it detracted from the sense of hollowness and desolation that should obtain in Abendstern, similar to the sparse, bleak mood of the slow movements of the Piano Sonata, D959, and the Piano Trio No. 2, D929, for instance. Wolfgang Holzmair wonderfully demonstrated this when he sang the same song as an encore at an earlier recital. It was a shame too that the words of the sixth verse were substituted for the fourth verse of Im Frühling (and then repeated at the end, in their proper place), but fortunately there was no palpable interruption to the actual musical performance.

She did have to restart Mahler’s Ich atmet’ einen linden duft, but as with Spence’s similar lapse in a previous recital, one is inclined to let this pass by because Royal, along with Spence, were the only recitalists I witnessed in this Festival to have sung without any scores. To get the other gripes out of the way, there were odd pronunciations at times, such as some pinched vowels in Strauss’s Das Rosenband, rather short ‘a’ vowels elsewhere, and in Mahler’s Erinnerung the words rhyming with ‘Lieder’ tended to become drawn out to ‘…ur’.

As indicated, Royal came into her own musically with the Strauss selection. In Einerlei she sounded particularly free and relaxed, and seemed to enjoy the dreamy melodic twists in Malven on “Des Purpurs Glut”. Her fairly steely, brittle tone in Ich trage meine Minne perhaps recalled the voice of Elizabeth Schwarzkopf a little, as opposed to the gorgeously creamy sound of a Lisa della Casa or Gundula Janowitz, but Royal’s singing of September (arranged from the Four Last Songs) was warm enough, and the drawing into herself of the music on the final lines, “slowly it [summer] closes its large eyes grown weary” was telling.

Again, the Mahler songs suited the range of her voice well, particularly in her being able to give an earthy, visceral attack to “And I’ve already seen your cheery lover” in Frühlingsmorgen or to distil the sense of pain in Scheiden und Meiden. She and Kynoch together brought an atmosphere of intense calm and transcendence in the concluding Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen, like that of the Adagietto in the Symphony No. 5 or Urlicht of Symphony No. 2. Royal approached the melody with a rhythmic casualness and suppleness, bringing something of the character of a folksong to it, and she also used less vibrato, helping to create a mood of resignation and timelessness.

Once again there was much that was revealing and enjoyable in Kynoch’s performances at the piano, not just in setting the right musical ambience for each item. Worth singling out were the poised repeated chords in the left hand for the accompaniment to Schubert’s Romanze, the bell-like sonorities heralding the paradisal experience of shared love attained at the end of Strauss’s Das Rosenband, and the flicked, arpeggiated chords at the opening of Mahler’s Ich atmet’ einen linden Duft which could have come out of one of Debussy’s or Ravel’s water pieces. Kynoch should be given much credit, not just for the recitals in which he personally performed, but for his organisation of the Festival as a whole.

Curtis Roger

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