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Schubert Birthday Concert

Claire Booth (pictured)
Ann Murray
Mark Padmore
Roderick Williams
Graham Johnson

Schubert and his Contemporaries;
Wigmore Hall, 31 January 2007

Schubert's 210th birthday was celebrated at the Wigmore Hall with a recreation of something like those well documented evenings with his friends that Graham Johnson described in interview with Hilary Finch beforehand. He emphasised the conviviality and cozy warmth of these occasions and how the music was shared with fellow composers, some of them better known than was Schubert to become only years after his premature death. This Schubertiad was almost entirely comprised of music which Schubert himself admired, but will have been new to the trusting capacity audience unless they had already bought Schubert's Friends and Contemporaries, the appendix to the Hyperion Complete Schubert Songs.

We heard some eleven composers, amongst them Berger, Kreutzer, Hüttenbrenner, Lachner and Randhartinger. Johnson gave us a hot tip, that Franz Lachner is due for thorough revaluation as the missing link between Schubert & Schumann!

The quartet of fine singers was well matched; of particular interest was Claire Booth, deputising at four hours notice for Susan Gritton in this completely new repertoire, and sounding as if she'd known the music for years. When expressing appreciation of her willingness to fill the gap, Wigmore Hall's representative went blank, forgetting Claire Booth's name, to his embarrassment and the audience's laughter; no-one there will forget her name again!

We have followed this versatile singer's development since her memorable Daniel in Handel's Susanna at GSMD. Her contemporary repertoire suggests that she has absolute pitch. Claire Booth's rapid learning reminded me of the musicianship, presaging future professionalism, displayed by my small son Simon, who decided, whilst a local (all ages) singing competition was underway, that he'd have a go. He borrowed a copy of the set piece, sat on the stairs outside and learnt the song in a few minutes, before performing it to the huge approbation of the unaware adjudicator, Gwen Catley.

The music and its composers were fully documented in the programme book (complete with words and translations of the songs) and the presentation was in Graham Johnson's Songmakers' Almanac style, with brief narrations by the participants on stage. A long (2½ hours) concert, before an encore by Schubert himself, but a good demonstration of how unfamiliar music can satisfy an audience as well as rehearing canonic masterpieces for the nth time.

Peter Grahame Woolf