United Kingdom Schubert, Beethoven, Britten, Vaughan Williams, Brahms, Schumann, Mendelssohn, Fauré, Richard Strauss, Peter Cornelius, Wolf: Mary Bevan (soprano), Stephan Loges (baritone), Sholto Kynoch (piano), Cheltenham Music Festival, Pittville Pump Room, Cheltenham, 13.7.2016. (RJ)
Meterological observations rarely form part of my reviews, but in the case of this recital they are perhaps relevant. It seems that two centuries ago in 1816, when Schubert was 19, the summer failed to come. “A volcanic eruption generated an ash cloud which shrouded the northern hemisphere in darkness,” writes Natasha Loges. “Its effects lingered through the following chilly decade, effectively Schubert’s life as well as the remaining decade of Beethoven’s.”
The first half of the evening, entitled Four Seasons of Song, was devoted to songs about the seasons by Schubert and Beethoven written in that fateful year. For the Schubert selection Sholto Kynoch included a number of lesser known songs he had discovered when assembling the Schubert Project for the Oxford Lieder Festival two years ago when the composer’s complete song repertoire was performed.
Mary Bevan began with his bright sounding ‘Frühlingslied’ (Spring Song) D398, which was followed by a jubilant ‘Erntelied’ (Harvest Song) D434 from Stephan Loges and the jolly ‘Herbstlied’ (Autumn Song) sung as a duet. The desolation of winter was well conveyed in Loge’s ‘Winterlied’ (Winter Song) D 401 in a minor key, and the hopelessness was sustained into ‘Am Bach im Frühling’ (By the Brook in Spring) D361 from Mary Bevan. The Schubert songs also featured two versions of Goethe’s ‘Nur wer die Sehnsucht kennt’ (D359 and D481) sung by Mary Bevan, the second more intense than the first.
It was a pleasing idea to juxtapose the Schubert songs with Beethoven’s An die ferne Geliebte (Op 96). I wonder if the weather in 1816 was instrumental in causing Beethoven to experiment and invent a new musical form, the song cycle, which would become the vehicle for some of the finest music for his successors, such as Schubert, Schumann and Wolf. The sentiments expressed are those of a young man, the poet Alois Isidor Jeitteles, who was close to Schubert in age, and deal with the joys and sorrows of love. Stephan Loge’s performance was suffused with a quiet dignity encompassing wistfulness in ‘Auf dem Hügel sitz ich spähend’, ecstasy in ‘Diese Wolken in den Höhen’, rejoicing tinged with regret at the return of May, and a cri de coeur in the concluding ‘Nimm sie hin denn, diese Lieder’. This was singing of great sensitivity which pulled at the heart strings.
The second half of the recital revisited the cycle of seasons through the eyes of various composers, beginning with Mary Bevan’s account of Britten’s ‘Not Even Summer’, after which she recreated the atmosphere of lazy summer days in Vaughan Wiiliams’ ‘Silent Noon’. Stephan Loge brought us the warm harmonies of Brahms’ ‘Sommerabend’ and both artists came together to conclude the summer section with Schumann’s lively ‘So wahr die Sonne scheinet’.
Four songs by Fauré made up most of section on autumn with Mary Bevan’s engaging account of a fairy who writes songs for the birds and chastises them if they sing out of tune. By contrast Stephan Loge brought a profound sense of melancholy to ‘Automne’. Winter included two Christmas songs by Peter Cornelius and an elegant performance of ‘Winterabend’ in which Schubert sits by the fire recolling happier times.
But it would be unpardonable to end on a sombre note and spring returned with a brief appearance by Wolf in the joyful ‘Er ist’s’. This was followed by a generous helping of Mendelssohn, who is so often overlooked as a Lieder composer. Mary Bevan mingled joy with sorrow in ‘Altdeustches Frühlingslied’ and then adopted a more positive stance in the lilting ‘Frühlingsglaube’. Loge and Bevan duetted liltingly in ‘Maiglöckchen und die Blümlein’ as Jack Frost retreated letting the flowers dance again.
This was a most enjoyable and well planned recital which include a number of art songs which tend to get overlooked. So I hope the truly wonderful Mary Bevan and Stephan Loge will not take it amiss is I award the title “hero of the evening” to their equally wonderful pianist Mr Kynoch. After 15 years at the helm of Oxford Lieder Festival he is surely one of the world’s leading authorities on art song with a particular genius for compiling interesting programmes in which the items together so neatly.
The Cheltenham Music Festival continues until Sunday 17th July, www.cheltenhamfestivals.com/music
This year’s Oxford Lieder Festival – The Schumann Project – runs from 14th–29th October, www.oxfordlieder.co.uk