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Song at Wigmore Hall October 2006 - Frittoli, Williams & Burggraaf

Barbara Frittoli – soprano / James Vaughan – piano

Beethoven Ah! perfido

Schubert – Guarda, che Bianca luna; Da quell sambiante appresi; Mio ben ricordati; Nel boschetto; Felice arrivo e congedo

Bellini – Vaga luna, che inargenti

Verdi In solitaria stanza; Stornello

Rossini La promessa; L'invito: Bolero

Duparc L'invitation au voyage; Chanson triste; Phidyle; Serenade Florentine; Soupir; Le manoir de Rosemonde; Extase; Au pays ou se fait la guerre


Style, style, style – that was the issue which divided the audience response to this recital, and opened up the familiar debate on how much an opera diva should scale down the drama of her performance in the more intimate atmosphere of the concert hall.


Beethoven's Ah perfido is highly operatic in style, and Fritolli gave it full blooded treatment, running through a complete gamut of emotions in the space of just a few minutes. A real tour de force, leaving me stunned and satiated, in need of calm respite. But Fritolli is not a restful performer, she dramatically tosses back her hair, flings her arm into the air to accentuate a crescendo and sings with the power to reach the remotest levels of a big opera house.


Technically she was perfect, but temperamentally overwhelming. Schubert's gentle Italian lieder assumed proportions which the composer surely never envisaged, and only in Bellini's lovely Vaga luna was simplicity allowed to prevail, and like a rainbow after a storm, a tantalising a glimpse emerged of her voice in true recital mode.


Whilst a case could be made to link the Italian first half of the programme with the opera house, Duparc's songs clearly belong in the salon and loose all their delicate subtlety when blown up to excess. Fortunately we had a superb pianist on the platform in the person of La Scala's Head of Music, James Vaughan, and my concentration became increasingly focussed in his direction.


At the end the audience were divided roughly 50: 50. Flowers and noisy bravo's from the enthusiasts, a more muted response from the others – interested but not convinced.


Roderick Williams - baritone / Iain Burnside – piano

John Ireland – Great things; Summer Schemes

Arnold Bax – The market girl; Far in a western brookland

George Butterworth – Bredon Hill

Roderick Williams – Eight o'clock

Judith Weir – On terrestrial things

Hugh Wood – An ancient to ancients

Gerald Finzi – Earth and Air and Rain Op 15


The afternoon was cold and very wet and the streets of London at their least attractive - just staying at home was a real temptation - but the Wigmore Hall audience who had braved the elements found themselves transported to the rural idyll of the English countryside (seen through the poetic eyes of Thomas Hardy and A E Housman) where “friendly summer calls again” and birdsong lifts the spirits.


Roderick Williams has a rich baritone, admirably clear diction and an obvious feeling for English Song. He started with well known pieces by Ireland , Bax and Butterworth and then introduced his own setting of a short poem by A E Housman Eight o'clock . It proved to be a dramatic showpiece, as much for the pianist as the singer, in which a condemned prisoner awaits the striking of the clock and his death.


Back again to the familiar territory of Bax and Ireland and then a jump in time to a rather quirky setting of Hardy's On Terrestrial Things by Judith Weir which nevertheless amply portrayed the aged thrush singing it's heart out amongst the bleak twigs. Then, for me at least, the surprise star item of the afternoon, Hugh Wood's setting of An Ancient to Ancients – a tongue-twister of a poem reeling off the names of philosophers, artists, writers – so cleverly referenced in the music, with opera represented by the subtlest of quotes from La bohème and Il trovatore – and very neatly performed.

Then the substantial finale, Finzi's cycle Earth and Air and Rain. Williams and Burnside have a special affinity with Finzi and have recorded a number of his works for Naxos (see www.musicalpointers.co.uk/reviews/cddvd/FINZIBurnsideWilliams.htm ) and this is their latest on CD 8.557963). It is a very well varied cycle with the earthy humour of Rollicum-Rorum perfectly balanced by the meek simplicity of Lizbie Brown and tragic outcome of The clock of the years which could not be stopped in its backward march.


Iain Burnside was a fully supportive pianist throughout and perhaps it was his choice to include Robert Burns' lovely poem My love is like a red, red rose as encore, exquisitely performed with the most finely spun high notes.


Cora Burggraaf – mezzo-soprano / Gary Mathewman – piano

Hahn – Tyndaris; Infidelitie; Quand je fus pris au pavilion; A Chloris; Le printemps

Strauss – 3 Lieder from Madchenblumen, Op 22; Allerseelen; Hat gesagt – bleibt's nicht dabel; Morgen; Cacilie

Orthel – Ubung am Klavier; Die Entfuhrung

Wolf – Four Mignon Lieder


Cora Burggraaf's name may not as yet be well known in the UK , but she is a young singer of unusual maturity and true distinction. I was confused by the description “mezzo-soprano” in the programme as my memory of her performances and the pre-publicity for the concert all indicated “soprano”, but on enquiry I was advised that she has embarked on the transition process.


Her presentation was flawless – wearing a sophisticated black dress complemented by a gold and silver lame stole (very Secessionist) which invoked the period and which she adjusted as she composed herself to match the temperament of each song.


She has a rare knack of portraying character, there was something quintessentially French and hinting at a cabaret connection in her opening group pf Hahn songs, replaced by something more straightforward, but equally contrasted, for Strauss' Madchenblumen.


The dramatic opportunities of Orthel's two narrative songs – “Piano Practice” and “Abduction” were grasped with confidence and Wolf's Mignon Lieder brought the recital to a satisfactory conclusion, with rather surprisingly, no encore.


Her pianist, Gary Mathewman, is another dedicated young artist whose performance has leapt forward in the last year – another name to watch out for.


Serena Fenwick