United Kingdom Schubert & Schumann: Rosanne van Sandwijk (mezzo soprano), Julius Drake (piano), Chipping Campden International Music Festival, St James’ Church, Chipping Campden, 13.5.2016. (RJ)
Schubert: Viola ‘Blumenballade’ D786; Seven Songs: Der Zwerg; Der Jüngling an der Quelle; An die Musik; An Silvia; Gretchen am Spinnrade; Ave Maria; Im Walde
Schumann: Liederkreis, Op 39; Hans Christian Andersen Lieder, Op 40: Märzveilchen; Muttertraum; Der Soldat; Der Spielmann
The Chipping Campden Festival is springing a number of surprises this year, and tonight’s recital, which threatened to be a disappointment because of the withdrawal of Angelike Kirchschlager, turned out instead to be a stunning occasion. Kirchschlager’s replacement was mezzo soprano Rosanne van Sandwijk who is establishing a reputation for herself in her native Holland in opera, oratorio and lieder. Her talent has attracted the attention of no less a musician than Julius Drake who had no hesitation in recommending her to the Festival organisers.
Another delightful surprise was her programme which included two rarely performed gems – Blumenballade by Schubert – a setting of Franz von Schober’s extended poem Viola – and Schumann’s setting of four poems by Hans Christian Andersen, best known for his fairy tales, in a translation by Chamisso.
Viola is about trampled innocence and wasted potential and concerns a violet that has ventured out too early in the spring and meets an early death. The snowdrop (Schneeglöcklein) plays a key role throughout the poem from first to last ringing its bell to rouse the other flowers from their winter sleep and to summon them to the violet’s side – then tolling a funeral lament in the final verse.
Rosanne van Sandwijk engaged one’s attention from the start with a gentle portrayal of the delicate snowdrop, becoming more animated as the poem heralds the imminent arrival of spring. There is a subtle change of mood as the violet appears on the scene: she has heard the snowdrop’s bells and hurriedly prepares for her wedding – only to find that she is too early and has to face the cold winds alone with neither suitor nor bridesmaids. She hides away in shame and weeps – a most heartrending moment performed with sadness and dignity. This was lieder singing at its very finest which encompassed subtle variations in tone without ever straying from the overall clash of hope and despair the work engendered.
A violet featured again in the Andersen poem Märzveilchen which reflects the spring dreams of a young man, but ends on a note of caution gently, imploringly conveyed by the singer. A sense of foreboding enters the other poems too: a mother dreams of a hopeful future while the hungry raven eyes her infant; a soldier in the firing squad fires the bullet which kills his friend; and a fiddler provides the music at the wedding at which his former sweetheart is betrothed to another. Different characters, different circumstances but Rosanne van Sandwijk somehow brought them together as a compassionate entity with plenty of tension along the way, especially in Der Soldat with a splendid martial accompaniment from Julius Drake.
Liederkreis is regarded by many as the greatest song cycle ever, and we were treated to a well thought out performance by Rosanne van Sandwijk and Julius Drake which expressed the variety of moods of Eichendorff’s poems. There was a palpable sense of loss in In der Fremde which was superseded with a gentle sparkle in Intermezzo. The calm was shattered in the dramatic Waldgespräch, however, in which the Lorelei claims another human victim, but was restored in the lovely Die Stille and the shimmering Mondnacht. The song cycle has its darker side but all was forgotten in the ecstatic Frühlingsnacht where a sense of joy builds up and eventually overflows.
Rosanne van Sandwijk was offered plenty of opportunity to spread her wings further in the selection of more familiar Schubert songs which concluded the evening. Chameleon-like she was able to change from dramatic narrative (Der Zwerg) to admiration (An die Musik, An Silvia), from devotion (Ave Maria) to awe (Im Walde). Her dramatic performance of Gretchen am Spinnrade suggested that she is very much at home on the opera stage, so I hope she will be invited over by one of our opera companies in the near future.
As for Julius Drake, he must be every singers’ dream accompanist, never flashy, always supportive, and with a flawless technique. Judging from tonight’s surprise, he’s a pretty good talent-spotter too.
The Chipping Campden Music Festival continues until May 21. (www.campdenmusicfestival.co.uk)