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Schumann, Butterworth & Poulenc

Schumann - Dichterliebe
Butterworth – Six Songs from A Shropshire Lad
Poulenc -  Montparnasse;  Mazurka; Un poeme, Le disparu; Tel jour telle nuit; Carte-postale; Avant le cinema
Fauré - Mandoline

Simon Keenlyside – baritone / Malcolm Martineau – piano

Wigmore Hall 9 January 2008

Three song cycles, in very different styles, add up to a meaty programme and require a good deal of concentration and focus from performers and audience alike.    Presented in chronological sequence they provided the aural equivalent of a “bird’s eye view” of the development of the songmakers art over the hundred years from the mid nineteenth to the mid twentieth century. 

The first half was devoted to Schumann’s Dichterliebe, with its gloriously lyrical opening, tempering the joys of spring with the wistful stirrings of love.    Of course the sunshine soon fades, and darker humours emerge. In the bitter Ich grolle nicht Keenlyside allowed an acid tone to emerge and almost snarled as he described “the serpent gnawing your heart”.   His sense of the dramatic was also to the fore in Ich hab’ im Traum and in his final determination to bury his bad and bitter dreams.

A leap of 50 years brought us to the period when A E Housman published his collection of poems entitled A Shropshire Lad which provide us with one of the most enduring images of the British countryside, so much so, as Simon Keenlyside pointed out, that it was as commonly carried by soldiers in the First World War trenches as the bible.  His selection of six songs emphasised the connection with the Great War and his performance carried a powerful under-tow of emotion.

Finally, to France on the verge of another war, though there is little enough presage it in Poulenc’s urbane settings of Paul Eluard’s poems, Tel jour telle nuit with their highly sophisticated and often elusive humour.    Keenlyside has beautifully polished French diction, and adopted something of the air of a boulevardier in delivering both these songs, and the little clutch of post war songs with which he preceded the cycle. 

All three cycles make heavy demands on the pianist, and it was clear that Malcolm Martineau was fully engaged and relished his many long postludes. 

An enraptured audience demanded more and were rewarded with two more Poulenc songs, both of which had featured in Keenlyside’s recital last January, and last of all Fauré’s hauntingly beautiful Mandoline as a worthy finale.

Serena Fenwick