United Kingdom Oxford Lieder Festival – Lunch with Fauré & Schubert: Katherine Crompton (soprano), Hanna-Liisa Kirchin (mezzo-soprano), Hannah Quinn (piano), Holywell Music Room, Oxford 29.10.2015 (MH)
Au bord de l’eau
Le Papillon et la Fleur
Auf dem Wasser zu singen
Nacht und Träume
Litanie auf das Fest Aller Seelen
Die Männer sind méchant
As part of the Oxford Lieder Festival 2015 project to feature the complete songs of Fauré, this was a feast. Fauré interwoven with Schubert gave a delightful mixture of light and shade, sorrow and smiles presented by recently graduated students of the National Opera Studio in the Holywell Music Room.
The Fauré songs were settings of several writers, notably Sully Prudhomme and Victor Hugo, but sadly the all time favourite Schubert setting of the Goethe’s Gretchen am Spinnrade had to be omitted.
The Hors d’oeuvres was served up by soprano Katherine Crompton who used her warm, expressive soprano to convey the fleeting beauty of the world in Ici-bas. Although apologies had been made for a cold, this was hardly evident as the voice warmed. Les Berceaux was heartfelt, as sailors leave their wives and new born offspring on the quay, not only the voice but the body language of Crompton conveyed the anguish and the delicacy of the situation vividly. The training of NOS was surely evident in this performance, where just small gestures and facial expression can add so much to such a song.
L’Entrée came as mezzo-soprano Hanna-Liisa Kirchin took to the platform. A piece which takes the voice consecutively in and out of major and minor modes – Au bord de l’eau was sung with an expressive warmth of tone and superb eye contact with the audience. “ I am telling you my story” was the impression throughout.
Continuing with the water theme, the first Schubert lied – Auf dem wasser zu singen showed Kirchin’s ability to paint a scene with the voice, particularly in the low mezzo section. Sadly, from my position in the audience she was a little overpowered by the strong piano accompaniment.
Crompton returned, also with Schubert, expressively sung and well controlled top spin in this pianissimo piece – Nacht und Träume.
Le Plat Principal presented a good helping of Fauré moving from Prayer into Christmas and then contrastingly – Larmes, where again Kirchin used her warm mezzo expressively, without forcing the bottom register and displaying a consistant pillar of sound throughout the voice. Au Cimetière brought piano and voice together comparing burial on land and death for those in peril on the sea. Here the final watery demise was preceded by a dramatic, expressively executed, chromatic storm sequence from the piano. The imagery of a sinking body you could see in Kirchin’s eyes, before calm returned in the graveyard.
Appropriately in the programming and for the time of year, followed Litanei auf das Fest aller Seelen – Schubert, presented in 3 verses by Kirchin. Here the accompaniment was gently supportive and sympathetic to the singer who spun out long legato lines. The magical last 3 bars of from the piano were sublime.
Sadly a distraction during this part of the programme was the currently unavoidable person using a mobile phone to video the performance.
Le Dessert was short on cream without Gretchen am Spinnrade, but Crompton showed off her cheeky side with Schubert’s setting of Die Männer sind méchant – Men are Naughty. A coquettish sparkle in the voice showed a facet we had not seen before and another colour expertly deployed.
Back in storytelling mode was Kirchin with Mélisande’s Song sung in English, which also tickled the taste buds with it’s almost pantomimic storyline and fun presentation. Le Papillon et la Fleur was an amusing song sketch and one could clearly imagine the flower stretching out it’s leafy tendrils to the butterfly. Further vocal scene painting satisfied the appetite before Le Café with Schubert and Kirchin’s Digestif – Frühlingsglaube. A sad song despite the hope expressed by the singer, it is considered to be one of the composer’s greatest and expressively ended this lunchtime repast.
Accompanist Hannah Quinn has recently completed a repetiteur course at the National Opera Studio, but has also been Music Director for the City of Carlisle Orchestra during their 2013-14 season. This experience showed throughout the recital in her extremely sensitive, pianistic support of the singers. Excelling on the dramatic accompaniment when required, particularly in Au Cimetière – Fauré.
As a centre of excellence the National Opera Studio has become well known over the years and the performers in this lunchtime recital were a fine example of its raison d’etre. The Oxford Lieder festival is also to be congratulated in presenting the opportunity to hear the complete songs of Fauré this year.
We apologise for the late appearance of this review. Earlier reviews of thed Oxford Lieder Festival by Curtis Rogers can be found in the October listings.