Christine Brewer Lavishes Affection on American Songs

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Edinburgh International Festival 2015 (17) – Schubert, Clara Schumann, Joseph Marx, Strauss,  American composers:  Christine Brewer (soprano), Roger Vignoles (piano), Queen’s Hall, 22.8.2015. (SRT)

I began this concert worried about Christine Brewer’s health, as she had to be helped onto the stage by Roger Vignoles.  (It turns out she’s waiting for a knee replacement).  However, for a while I was worried about her voice, too, because much of the gleam, vigour and effortlessness that has been so apparent in her earlier recitals was thin on the ground.

In fact, much of her sequence by Schubert and Clara Schumann sounded rather pinched, with phrasing effortful and top notes struggled for.  Perhaps it was just the early hour, though, because things improved for the Marx and Strauss selection.  Marx’s Waldseligkeit brimmed with ecstasy, and Brewer was dependable as ever in the Strauss favourite Allerseelen.  It’s possible that some of the voice’s former brilliance has waned, but only time will tell.

One suspects, though, that Brewer’s heart was really in the second half of this concert.  This was a self-curated selection of songs, primarily by American composers, which great sopranos of a former age had often included in their recitals or used as encores.  Engagingly, Brewer talked us through each one, with some details of either the composer or the singer with whom it was linked, including Kirsten Flagstad, Eleanor Steber and Helen Traubel, and I wondered more than once whether Brewer was putting herself on the same level as them?  Either way, affection for her material ran through the second half, and that led to some beautiful performances, most notably Sidney Homer’s Sing to me, sing and Harold Vicars’ Song of Songs; though I most enjoyed Celius Dougherty’s Review, where he sets his own piece of criticism to music, sending up both the critic’s and the musician’s trade in the process.

The concert was recorded for BBC Radio 3 and will be broadcast on Friday 28th August.  See here for full details.

Simon Thompson

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