A Wide-Ranging 20th Anniversary Celebration of the Samling Artist Programme

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Samling 20th Anniversary Concert: Kiandra Howarth (soprano), Kathryn Rudge (mezzo-soprano), David Butt Philip (tenor), Benjamin Appl (baritone), Andrew Foster-Williams (baritone), James Baillieu (piano), Ian Tindale (piano), Malcolm Martineau (piano), James Garnon (actor). Wigmore Hall, London, 8.11.2016. (MB)

BrittenA Charm of Lullabies, Op.41: ‘A Cradle Song’; ‘The Nurse’s Song’
Warlock – ‘My Sweet Little Darling
SchubertWiegenlied D498
Ives – ‘The Children’s Hour
SchumannLieder-Album für die Jugend Op.79: ‘Marienwürmchen’
PoulencLa Courte Paille Nos.4-7
SchubertLicht und Liebe D352
LisztTre sonetti di Petrarca, S270/1: Sonnets Nos. 104, 47
Quilter Five Shakespeare Songs (set 2): ‘It was a lover and his lass’
Britten – ‘The Foggy, Foggy Dew’; ‘Soldier, won’t you marry me?’
SchubertSchwanengesang D957: ‘Kriegers Ahnung’
SchumannDer Soldat Op.40 No.3
Wolf – Der Soldat I and II
Fauré – ‘Les Berceaux’ Op.23 No.1
Poulenc – ‘Bleuet’
Barber – I hear an army Op.10 No.3
Liza LehmannNonsense Songs from ‘Alice in Wonderland’: ‘Fury said to a Mouse’
BolcomTwelve Cabaret Songs: ‘Amor’
Brahms – ‘O wüsst ich doch den Weg zurück’, Op.63 No.8; ‘Alte Liebe’ Op.72 No.1
Barber – ‘The Secrets of the Old’ Op.13 No.2
CoplandTwelve Poems of Emily Dickinson: ‘Going to Heaven!’
Schubert – ‘Nachstück’ D672; ‘Der Tages Weihe’ D763

The Samling Artist Programme has nurtured the careers of many a young artist, both singers and pianists (or, if you will, accompanists), gathering them together (apparently, gathering, collective, even assembly are possible translations of the Norse ‘Samling’) with an array of senior artists. Part of that programme is an annual showcase at the Wigmore Hall. For its twentieth anniversary, Samling Artists from 2000 (Andrew Foster-Williams) to 2016 (Kiandra Howarth) took the stage, joined by Malcolm Martineau (one of those senior artists or ‘Leaders’) and the actor, James Garnon. Thomas Allen, Samling’s Patron was to have joined the assembled company, but flu put paid to that, and thus to an ensemble from Sullivan’s Trial by Jury. I cannot comment on every single song, but hope to give a flavour of what was on offer in this particular showcase.

The programme traced the ‘seven ages of man’, prefaced by Garnon’s engaging reading from As you like it’s ‘strange eventful history’. Two songs from Britten’s A Charm of Lullabies (Kathryn Rudge and James Baillieu) opened ‘Infancy’, Baillieu’s piano making much of the harmonic affinity of the Blake ‘Cradle Song’ with the world of The Rape of Lucretia, Rudge captivating in the a cappella opening of ‘The Nurse’s Song’. Her mezzo-soprano voice here and elsewhere proved both rich and variegated of tone. The post-Mozartian simplicity of Schubert’s ‘Wiegenlied’ was well captured by Kiandra Howarth and Malcolm Martineau, paving the way for ‘Childhood’. Benjamin Appl seemed not to come truly into his own until later in the recital. Although Ives’s ‘The Children’s Hour’ was beautifully sung, he missed a certain lightness of touch. Four songs from Poulenc’s La Courte paille were more successful. They were shared between Howarth and Rudge, the former seemingly relishing a more absurdist side, the latter more seductive.

When we reached the stage of ‘The Lover’, David Butt Philip joined Howarth and Ian Tindale for Schubert’s Licht und Liebe. Tindale proved equally alert rhythmically and harmonically. The ardent quality of Butt Philip’s singing carried into an unapologetically Italianate rendition of Liszt’s first Petrarch Sonnet. Vocal passion was matched in Baillieu’s piano playing of that and the second, for which Howarth returned, to give a similarly dramatic performance. I cannot claim to care much for the music of Roger Quilter, but Rudge and Appl gave a charming performance.

A welcome change of mood – Britten folksongs are really not for me – came after the interval with ‘The Soldier’. Following a reading from Henry IV, Part I, Andrew Foster-Williams was heard for the first time, with Baillieu, in ‘Kriegers Ahnung’. A greater depth was immediately announced, carried into an especially commanding performance (now with Tindale) of Schumann’s ‘Der Soldat’, sadness and anger in compelling balance. Appl seemed much more at home in two soldier songs from Wolf’s Eichendorff-Lieder, using the words to excellent effect. Another highlight, not just of this section, but of the concert as a whole, came with the Rudge-Martineau performance of Fauré’s ‘Les Berceaux’, its sadness deeply felt. Honesty and integrity of feeling were equally apparent in Butt Philip’s Poulenc ‘Bieuet’. Stylish, never mawkish, he impressed just as much as he had in the very different music of Liszt. Much the same might be said of Foster-Williams, in Samuel Barber’s Joyce setting, ‘I hear an army’.

‘The Justice’ was missing the aforementioned Sullivan number, so was confined to a charmingly despatched Liza Lehmann song (Butt Philip/Tindale) and a cabaret song by William Bolcom: not my thing, I am afraid, although Howarth was very much in her element. Lugubrious Teutonophile that I am, I responded more warmly to ‘Old Age’ and Brahms. Foster-Williams and Baillieu gave an unexaggerated, deceptively straightforward performance of ‘O wüßt ich doch den Weg zurück’, Rudge and Martineau displaying depth to match that of the Fauré song in ‘Alte Liebe’. Rudge’s Barber song, ‘The Secrets of the Old’, captured the idiom perfectly: an equally fine performance, again well supported by Martineau. Much the same might be said of Howarth and Tindale’s sincere, aware ‘Going to Heaven!’

Our revels now were ended, as the final Shakespeare reading reminded us. ‘Oblivion/Second Infancy’ opened with a fine performance of Schubert’s ‘Nachtstück’ from Appl and Martineau. With beautiful vocal shading, Appl offered ample consolation for the misery of dotage. A heartfelt consecration of the day (‘Des Tages Weihes’) concluded proceedings, with a well-matched performance form Howarth, Rudge, Butt Philip, Foster-Williams, and Baillieu. It seemed fitting to leave to the echoing strains of something akin to a Schubertiade.

Mark Berry

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