United Kingdom Oxford Lieder Festival – The Schubert Project (1). Schubert Masterclass with Felicity Lott: Dame Felicity Lott, Jonathan Hyde (baritone), Kaoru Wada (piano), Clara Fournillier (soprano), Béatrice de Larragoïti (soprano), Matthieu Esnult (piano): St. Columba’s Church, Oxford 17.10.2014. (MH)
- Die abgeblühte Linde
- Der Blumenbrief
- An die Musik
- Lied der Mignon
- An den Mond
- Gretchen am Spinnrade
- Du bist die Ruh
A brief introduction to the 2014 Lieder festival in Oxford states: “The 2014 Oxford Lieder Festival, “The Schubert Project” will feature every song Schubert wrote in a UK first and one of the biggest ever celebrations of this remarkable composer. Bringing Schubert’s Vienna to Oxford in a dazzling feast of music, art, theatre, food & drink, this three-week festival is a once-in-a-lifetime chance to immerse yourself in the master of song and his world.”
The venue, St Columba’s Church in Alfred Street, Oxford proved ideal for this event thanks to British architect Thomas Phillips Figgis who worked in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The acoustic was not too resonant when filled with enthusiastic Schubertians. Unfortunately, for the first performer a rather over adjusted hearing aid gave a shrill response to notes in the upper baritone register. This was only partially rectified after a management request and did spoil the enjoyment of some excellent singing.
Dame Felicity Lott was charming with her three students. It was certainly brave of them to perform in front of such a renowned practitioner with an audience.
The first singer was baritone, Jonathan Hyde. He graduated from St John’s College, Cambridge in July where he was a choral scholar, and is now on the postgraduate singing course at Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London. His first Lied – Die abgeblühte Linde (The Lime Tree after it’ has blossomed) allowed him to show off a well rounded, mellow baritone voice, very expressive in colouring the text of this song, operatic in format with recitative and then aria section. Dame Felicity listened to a full sing through and was very impressed by his interpretation. She was able to suggest several enhancements; for example, the preparation of certain phrases, particularly where they began with vowels, which Jonathan was able to incorporate immediately into his performance.
Kaoru Wada provided the accompaniment, tenderly sympathetic to the voice in the opening recitative and then filling out the later, more operatic section. At every restart just as considerate to the singer. Kaoru is currently studying collaborative piano at the Guildhall School of Music on a Leverhulme Scholarship. It was good to see Jonathan physically using the piano and hear that the instrument and singer were as one in much of this performance.
With his second and third songs Jonathan continued to impress not only with his mature vocal ability, but his excellent German where his pronunciation expressed clearly an understanding of the emotion for each piece. Dame Felicity again was able to suggest performance skills as well as tweaks to the interpretation. These included focus position for the eyes and care not to throw away important lines, but rather caress them. She also explained how music had been so important in her life and that age may lead to different interpretations of An die Musik . . When demonstrating she was able to show the power of music – the most cherished of arts.
The next participant was French soprano Clara Fournillier (soprano), a finalist in the 2014 Lillian Ash French Song Competition held in February at the Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance, London where she is a postgraduate student. Here was a voice younger and less experienced, a bright soprano, pleasantly moving through the Goethe text of Geheimes, but not easily able to express the contrast between the light and dark moods required. That being said, for a native French speaker, conversing in English and singing in German, nerves were to be expected. Dame Felicity, again with her skill, was able to put the student at ease and demonstrate many points on language and basic technique to make for a more consistent style of performance. At one point she light heartedly remembered how Geoffrey Parsons, having attended one of her recitals said “Lovely dear, Don’t scratch your thigh”. This was used to illustrate how body language and focus is so important when presenting Lieder.
In Lied der Mignon – a song of love lost and far away and An den Mond another song of tragedy and love; Clara attempted to express the distress of each Goethe poem, but again a lack of support for the sound and language got in the way of a more fuller interpretation of the pieces. Nevertheless wonderful to listen to both her and her mentor.
The final singer of the morning was soprano – Béatrice de Larragoïti. She began her singing career having studied the History of Art and Archaeology at the Sorbonne, Paris. She has notable musical credits in France and is currently on the Master of Performance Course at Trinity College of Music, London. Here was a heavier soprano voice with considerable resonance in the lower register. She began with the well known Gretchen am Spinnrade, another Goethe song of lost love. Hers was a secure interpretation, although the language was sometimes lost in the endeavour to maintain musical line. Dame Felicity was able to demonstrate how delicacy of diction is so important particularly in the more tender sections “Sein hoher Gang, Sein’ edle Gestalt,”. In contrast to the excitement of “Und küssen ihn, So wie ich wollt”. Béatrice was able to incorporate her mentor’s suggestions enabling her to give a heart felt cry for the ending “Meine Ruh’ ist hin, Mein Herz ist schwer,”
Her second choice was another Schubert favourite Du bist die Ruh, with words by Rückert. This was an enjoyable performance. She was again encouraged to caress the language a little more and also bring finesse to higher register phrases where the voice is pulled away such as “Allein erhellt,”.
The two sopranos were accompanied by Matthieu Esnult who has degrees in Music, Literature and Philosophy from Sorbonne University. He obtained his Master’s in Piano with Distinction in 2013 and is currently undertaking an Artistic Diploma at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance in London.
Time sadly brought an end to the Masterclass which enriched both the participants and the audience. Dame Felicity Lott was a most considerate and at times amusing mentor to her students. Personally, I was delighted to hear her again, having spent several years as a chorister in operas at Glyndebourne where she was taking the lead role. A huge thank you to the Schubert project for mounting this event.