A Delectable Lieder Recital by Kate Royal

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Schubert, R. Strauss, Mahler Kate Royal (soprano); Malcolm Martineau (piano). Wigmore Hall, London, 07.02.2014 (CC)

An Sylvia, D891
Romanze aus Rosamunde, D797
An den Mond, D759
Rastlose Liebe, D138
Heimliches Lieben, D922
Im Frühling, D882
An die Musik, D547
An die Nachtigall, D497
Abendstern, D806
Frühlingsglaube, D686
Delphine, D857


R. Strauss
Ich trage meine Minne, Op. 32/1
Das Rosenband, Op. 36/1
Einerlei, Op. 69/3
Scheiden und Meiden
Rückert-Lieder: Ich atmet einen linden Duft; Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen

This is by no means the first time I have encountered Kate Royal at the Wigmore: Brahms and Schumann were on the menu in May 2009, while Brahms, Debussy, Poulenc and Richard Strauss provided the delights in February 2008.  We stuck to the Austro-Germanic repertoire this time, in a lovingly planned recital.

Schubert is possibly the perfect way to start a vocal recital, and Royal presented no less than eleven Lieder. Her accompanist was the tremendously experienced Malcolm Martineau, whose sensitivity to each and every song was a marvel in itself.  The second song, Romanze aus Rosamunde, introduced a beautiful tenderness. In this and in An Sylvia the confident Royal gave us long, cantabile lines and demonstrated exemplary diction. The gently flowing movement of An den Mond (the D759 setting) was presented unaffectedly.

The opening three songs had been carefully chosen so that none required a real opening out of the voice. That only took place in the next song, Rastlose Liebe, with its terrifically difficult piano accompaniment – delivered as if no challenge at all by Martineau – just as the following song, Heimliches Lieben, introduced far more subtleties of shading. Finishing the first group with the more famous Im Frühling was another canny move. It is a gorgeous song that has a veneer of simplicity but could only be by Schubert. Martineau’s gentle elaborations of the line, entwining with Royal’s delivery, delivered what can only be described as sonic magic.

Another five Schubert songs filled out the rest of the first half. An die Musik is another interior song, in effect a prayer to music that climaxed emotionally – correctly – at the words “Du holde Kunst”. Although brief, An die Nachtigall is perfection itself, and here one’s ear was drawn to Martineau’s delicate delivery of the piano part; the crepuscular atmosphere of the exquisite Abendstern seemed the ideal continuation, and Royal was at her finest here. The famous Frühlingsglaube was taken at a fresh pace, and none the worse for that; its companion here, Delphine, took that a stage further and verged on the cheeky. A splendid first half.

Richard Strauss’ songs are always welcome in a programme. The first here, Ich trage meine Minne, is quintessential Strauss. Royal caught the darkening of the second stanza to perfection. If Royal does not have the sheer volume of voice and dynamic range of, say, Jessye Norman – who was so expert in this repertoire – she has her own way of attuning to Strauss’ world. The next song, Das Rosenband, confirmed how suitable Royal is for Strauss, her legato a treat. Einerlei is perhaps lesser known but is a jewel of a song, a compendium of Straussian musical fingerprints, each of which both Royal and Martineau seemed to relish. Malven has long, agile lines that, under Royal, never swooped. September, one of the Four Last Songs, has huge history behind it, and Royal acquitted herself well, taking it at a tempo that decidedly did not linger and gave us a refreshing reading.

The Schubert-Strauss-Mahler trajectory is an interesting one. It is as if the ramifications of Schubert shoot off in two very different directions. Mahler’s world is a difficult one, saturated with folk music (sometimes distorted, as in the delicious Scheiden und Meiden) and reflection. Royal’s selection was again intelligent: a mix of the known and the less known; of the overwhelming historical weight that lies on Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen and the freshness of Frühlingsmorgen, with its magical piano trills, so well done by Martineau. Errinerung is one of the less well known songs, and here it was appropriately dark from both performers.

From the Rückert-Lieder, Ich atmet einen linden Duft and Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen were both given beautiful readings, the final one especially delivering a palpable sense of desolation. An English folksong set by Britten, The Ash Grove, as encore made a lovely choice, its simplicity likening to Schubert, and a breath of fresh air after the Mahler.

Colin Clarke