Bathed in Golden Light at the Oxford International Song Festival

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Oxford International Song Festival 2023 [1] – Loewe, Vaughan Williams, Williams, Haydn, Clarke, Bathed in Golden Light: Christine Rice (alto), Edward Kim (baritone), Timothy Ridout (viola), Julius Drake and Emily Hoh (pianists). Holywell Music Room, Oxford, 17.10.2023. (CR)

Christine Rice (alto) and Julius Drake (piano) at a Wigmore Hall concert

Loewe – Tom der Reimer
Vaughan Williams – The House of Life – Silent Noon
Meirion Williams – Pan Ddaw’r Nos (When the night comes)
Haydn – Arianna a Naxos
Rebecca Clarke – Chinese Puzzle; Tiger Tiger; I’ll bid my heart be still; June Twilight; Lullaby on an Ancient Irish Tune; The Seal Man
Bridge – Three Songs, H.76
Brahms – Two Songs, Op. 91

The musical starting point for this recital came from the Brahms songs with viola at the end, prompting the inclusion of Bridge’s Three Songs for the same combination, and three pieces for the instrument by the viola-playing Rebecca Clarke, each preceding a song for voice and piano by her. Christine Rice gave quite a radiant account of Brahms’s pair, aptly lulling for the Geistliches Wiegenlied but perhaps slightly missing the deeper autumnal glow of Gestillte Sehnsucht which starts with the line ‘Bathed in golden evening light’ (made the appellation for the whole programme here). Timothy Ridout on the viola set a genial pace, more brisk than languorous for the former, airily flowing for the latter.

The Bridge settings were more dramatically atmospheric, especially in the powerful, surging climax of ‘Far, far from each other’, the passion of the voice and Julius Drake’s piano accompaniment then assuaged by Ridout’s consoling playing. His mellow line threaded wistfully through the piano’s chromatic sequence of chords for the third song, as much a part of the song’s trajectory as Rice’s reflective, withdrawn rendition, overall rather Romantic and resigned in mood, and providing an appropriate lead-in to Brahms’s songs. In Clarke’s pieces for viola, Ridout drew a veiled but sustained character for their melodies, as also for the soft pizzicato twangs of Chinese Puzzle, where the composer’s music created a generalised musical impression of the Orient with pentatonic seconds and fourths, like Debussy’s Pagodes. Drake maintained a sense of moderation in the piano part for all three pieces, which sounded as though respectfully doodling around the viola. Rice cultivated an effective parlando for what is essentially the narrative ballad of The Seal Man, in contrast to an awed and fearful tone for the setting of Blake’s Tiger Tiger (entitled as such, rather than Tyger).

By far the most substantial piece came at the beginning of Rice’s recital, with Haydn’s dramatic cantata Arianna a Naxos, really an extended operatic scena. The opening sections of arioso and fully-fledged aria, as she awaits her beloved Theseus on the Greek island, were hesitant and anxious rather than yearning and sensuous. But Rice got into her stride for the more formidably sustained rage in the second part as Ariadne realises that she has been betrayed by him, goaded on by Drake’s ever-increasing urgency in the piano part, and ending with a forcefully emphatic cadence.

The first segment of this recital was given over to a pair of emerging artists. With a refreshing minimum of gestural fuss on stage, Edward Kim focussed his attention seriously but expressively upon the music to tell a beautifully nuanced story in Loewe’s cheerful Tom der Reimer, and to create a warmer mood in the songs by Vaughan Williams and Meirion Williams, even if the consonants in the Welsh setting by the latter weren’t always distinct. Emily Hoh provided sympathetic accompaniments – the moto perpetuo introduction to Loewe’s song, rather like the continuous spinning motion of Schubert’s Gretchen am Spinnrade, might have had more poetry, but there was much evocative detail elsewhere.

Curtis Rogers

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