Sweet Music to the Ear at Sunset

United KingdomUnited Kingdom  Oxford Lieder Festival – The Schubert Project (3). The Abendröte Cycle & Der Liedler: Mhairi Lawson (soprano), Nicholas Mulroy (tenor), Eugene Asti (piano):  Holywell Music Room, Oxford 18.10.2014. (MH)


Der Liedler, D 209                       Josef Kenner
An den Mond, D193                    Ludwig Heinrich Christoph Hölty
Die Mainacht, D 194                    Hölty
An die Nachtigall, D 196              Hölty
Blanka, D 631                              Friedrich von Schlegel
Vom Mitleiden Mariae, D632        von Schlegel


Lieder texts from Friedrich von Schlegel

The Abendröte Cycle


Abendröte, D690
Die Berge, D 634
Die Vögel, D 691
Der Knabe, D692
Der Fluss, D693
Die Rose, D745
Der Schmetterling, D633
Der Wanderer, D649
Das Mädchen, D652
Die Sterne, D684
Die Gebüsche, D646
Licht und Liebe, D352                  Matthäus von Collin

Here was another rare opportunity to hear a collection of Schubert masterpieces in the excellent acoustic of Holywell, Music Room, Oxford.  This programme featured the great Schiller ballad ‘Der Liedler’ and the ‘Abendröte’ cycle – poems by Friedrich von Schlegel, with several other favourites .

 Der Liedler is an 18 minute tour de force for the tenor, a non stop rollercoaster of emotion,

There are numerous changes  of colour in the vocal line required to paint the pictures of this personal tale which develops into a narrative. The minstrel loses his loved one to a Knight. On the journey to her wedding she is attacked by a werewolf and the Minstrel slays the beast at the same time forfeiting his own life. Appropriately performed only 2 weeks before the werewolf comes out for Halloween; we may watch similar drama today on the Horror channel! However, it is suggested it may be a reflection of Schubert’s own hopeless love for Therese Grob.

 Nicholas Mulroy – an experienced operatic and lieder singer, gave a spirited performance of the Minstrel. He was suitably impassioned and heroic in the early aria section of the narration “Und er’s nicht länger tragen kann”, though at times the lower register was overpowered by the piano.   It may only have been because of my seat position, but is a problem for many tenors when strong singing in the lower register is required, particularly at the end of phrases. Mulroy used his operatic style skilfully and obviously enjoyed the declamatory sections “Da warf er Weg und Waffe weg” and the later drama of the fight with the werewolf with only his harp as a weapon “Da riss er sich, ein Blitz, empor”His phrasing and understanding of the language were excellent, only marred, occasionally, by reliance on the musical score which was at times distracting. Nevertheless, so enjoyable.

 Mhairi Lawson followed with several individual songs. A crystal clear soprano, the sparkle of the moon was in every phrase of An den Mond. Here we had a slight change in performance order which enabled the mood to be maintained. An Die Nachtigall was a suitably subtle, quiet lullaby  which was followed by Die Mainacht,  also beautifully expressive. Once again, there were some expansive arm gestures and also frequent downward glances at the score, which, for me, presented a certain unfortunate loss of engagement with her audience. Blanka  made a suitable delicate contrasting finale to this section.

 The Abendröte Cycle which followed,  represents various aspects of nature and the environment at Sunset in the poetic words of Friedrich von Schlegel. He inspired many other writers with his romantic view of the world.

 Mulroy set the scene with Sunset and The Mountain in an impressively light vocal painting of the scene. Then came the birds and the bees: Die Vögel, where  Lawson gave a playfully, coloured interpretation, commencing appropriately with “Wie lieblich und frolich”. This song obviously suited her voice. After a Papageno moment from the tenor “Wenn ich nur ein Vöglein wäre” [Der Knabe]  came Der Fluss, where we had wonderful long soprano phrases showing absolute breath control. Die Sterne had sweeping phrases in the middle section “Dann flösse die liebe….” well accomplished, but  perhaps the concentration  produced a slight tenorial facial blankness.

 The recital ended with the delightful duet Licht und Liebe.  “Love is a sweet light” the happy pair proclaim but sadly they didn’t engage visually with each other once. Whatever happened to the practice where singers stand relatively still, use the piano and express via the music and the face?  Old fashioned it may be, but it is a technique recommended in the Dame Felicity Lott Masterclass of the previous day.

 Eugene Asti an accomplished pianist, was beautifully expressive in the full accompaniment of Der Liedler. Always supportive of the singer in emotion and painting each scene; particularly the drama of galloping horses followed by the fight with the werewolf.  This support, matching the colour and emotion of the singers helped to make this another memorable event.

 In no way is any negativity in this review meant to trivialise the artistry shown by the performers in a recital which received rapturous applause and appreciation from the matinee audience.


Martyn Harrison

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