Two internationally-renowned artists return home for the Edinburgh International Festival

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Edinburgh International Festival 2023 [14] – Various: Catriona Morison (mezzo-soprano), Malcolm Martineau (piano). Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh, 21.8.2023. (SRT)

Catriona Morison (mezzo-soprano) and Malcolm Martineau (piano)

Schubert – Die junge Nonne; An den Mond; Nacht und Träume; Rastlose Liebe; Frühlingsglaube; Gretchen am Spinnrade
Josephine Lang – Scheideblick; Ob ich manchmal dein gedenke; Die Schwalben; Mignons Klage
Pauline Viardot –
Mörike Lieder: Nixe Binsefuss; In der frühe; Der Gärtner
Mahler – Das Knaben Wunderhorn: Rheinlegendchen; Das irdische leben; Urlicht;
Wer hat dies liedlein erdacht?
Pierre Vellones –
Cinq épitaphes, Op.73
Xavier Montsalvatge
Cinco canciones negras

The audience for the Edinburgh International Festival’s morning Queen’s Hall concerts love to see local talent that has done well, so goodwill was super-high for this concert by two internationally-renowned artists who were born in Edinburgh.

Malcolm Martineau has been one of the top accompanists for years, but Catriona Morison has only recently been catapulted into the bigtime since winning Cardiff Singer of the World in 2017. Since then she has been unstoppable, including opera performances in the EIF as the Composer in Ariadne auf Naxos in 2021 and, this year, one of the Three Ladies in The Magic Flute. She is the real deal, a highly skilled singing actor, and this recital was designed to show off her skills at their best.

In her Schubert section, for example, she sang both the Young Nun and Gretchen while totally inhabiting their characters. Each was a monodrama, a miniature opera in her portrayal, her facial and bodily expressions enriching and deepening the sentiments of the text, and it helped that the voice was richly beautiful throughout. It has a glowing centre, full of empathy and beauty, while there is a refulgent, brimming richness to the top which she lets loose only occasionally so as to retain its impact. Her technique is terrific, too: she sang the first half of Nacht und Träume with half-open lips so as to convey greater inwardness and deeper introspection, and her phrasing was impeccably considered throughout.

She brought similar intensity of feeling to the Lang songs with their intensity of feeling, and the voice matched Martineau’s filigree piano playing to depict the swallows in Die Schwalben. Her dramatic sense was used to great effect in the songs by Pauline Viardot. Viardot had been a great singing actor in her day, and in Morison’s interpretation it was easy to imagine Viardot writing them for herself to perform to her admiring public. The ringing top of the voice was on display in Nixe Binsefuss, and Martineau managed to evoke a rapturous peal of the morning bells in In der frühe.

The Mahler selection was both playful and sincere, with aching intensity to Das irdische Leben, while Morison shaded down her voice beautifully for the spiritual communion of Urlicht. The last two selections were, in many ways, the highlights, however. Pierre Vellones’s Five Epitaphs are playful miniatures, each carrying a sting in the tail, and Morison sang them with tongue-in-cheek insouciance, revelling in the narrative while sparking off Martineau’s piano line. And Xavier Montsalvatge’s Cinco canciones negras had a lovely, lilting piano rhythm to them while Morison sang with a touch of smoke and perfume, particularly the gorgeous, languid ‘Lullaby for a little black boy’.

The concert was recorded for future broadcast on Radio 3 and BBC Sounds.

Simon Thompson

The Edinburgh International Festival runs at venues across the city until Sunday 27th August click here for details.

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