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Schumann, his Poets and Contemporaries (Eichendorff)

Kate Royal (soprano)
Graham Johnson (piano)
Wigmore Hall, 28 Feb 2006

Felix Mendelssohn: Es weiss und rät es doch keiner Op. 99 No. 6; Nachtlied Op. 71 No. 6; Pagenlied (1835)
Robert Schumann: Liederkreis Op. 39
Johannes Brahms: Parole Op. 7 No. 2 ; Anklänge Op. 7 No. 3; In der Fremde Op. 3 No. 5; Mondnacht WoO. 21
Adolf Jensen: Waldgespräch Op. 5 No. 4; Frühlingsnacht Op. 1 No. 6
Hans Pfitzner: Der Gärtner Op. 9 No. 1; Sonst Op. 15 No. 4
Hugo Wolf: Die Nacht; Erwartung; Die Zigeunerin; Die Kleine; Verschwiegene Liebe

This special recital, with Schumann's Op 39 song cycle its centre piece, was part of an ambitious series at Wigmore Hall. The knowledgeable audience filled the hall, Kate Royal's name and qualities having spread on the grape-vine.

The pre-concert talk by Richard Stokes (author of The Book of Lieder - Faber) was likewise sold out. Writer of the extensive notes in the concert programme, he explored the literary contexts of Eichendorff's poetry, with illustrations from his vast record collection by Tauber, Price and others (the singers identified unerringly by experienced listeners).

Stokes emphasised Joseph von Eichendorff's preoccupation with the beauties of nature in the countryside, and this informed many of Kate Royal's sung texts. By request the first half was taken without pause or applause, and similar seriousness and forebearance (not by design) attended the singing after the interval until after the Jensen selection, with their more expansive piano accompaniments, caused an outburst of applause.

Kate Royal had appeared at ease from the beginning in the unfamiliar Mendelssohn songs, but perhaps betrayed a hint of the importance of the occasion in her tendency to clutch the piano? She often turned towards the keyboard side of the hall and her illustrious partner (with whose latest CDs of Schubert's Friends and Contemporaries I had been spending the last several days), but never favoured those of us on the other side!

The capacity audience was enthralled by Kate Royal's warmth and immaculate control, and her charming manner and appearance in shimmering pearl-white satin. In the advantageous acoustic of Wigmore Hall there was no need to labour articulation; the consonants were all there, never exaggerated - and anyway the audience had the words with translations in front of them. An important recital, surely soon to be followed by a recital CD?*

Meanwhile Kate Royal is well cast to depict the Child’s view of Heaven in the finale of Mahler's 4th Symphony, recorded "live" (no sound from a RNCM audience) by the Manchester Camerata in an interesting arrangement for 15 players made originally by Erwin Stein at Schoenberg's behest, and reconstructed by Alexander Platt from Stein's annotated score
[Avie AV 2069]. **

The recording is good, also the balance in the vocal finale, but the photos of the orchestra are of a much larger band than was intended and, so we are assured, was used by Douglas Boyd. (It would be good to have listed the players names too.)

And it is much to be regretted that the opportunity was not taken to add some songs to the 56 mins symphony and make the CD at all competitive (Virgin's recording with the Mahler Chamber Orchestra/Daniel Harding has Dorothea Röschmann offering 3 songs from Des Knaben Wunderhorn).

* For a detailed critique of Kate Royal's recital, see Anne Ozorio in Seen&Heard

** Gramophone welcomed this Avie recording " - - Erwin Stein’s reduction, for solo string quintet (including double bass), flute doubling piccolo, oboe doubling cor anglais, clarinet doubling bass clarinet, piano, harmonium and percussion, was prepared at a time when even the members of Arnold Schoenberg’s immediate circle had limited access to the real thing - - Douglas Boyd and his group offer a performance that is unfailingly fresh and alert. He has further aces up his sleeve: the helpful booklet notes by Philip Borg Wheeler and, of course, the participation of Kate Royal, fresh-voiced soprano winner of the 2004 Kathleen Ferrier competition, of whom much is expected. Andrew Keener’s production is the crispest, most immediate the score has received on disc."



© Peter Grahame Woolf