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Anna Leese - soprano / Graham Johnson – piano

Wigmore Hall 26 June 2008


Purcell/Britten: Mad Bess; Sweeter than roses

Brahms: Die Nachtigall; Nachtigallen schwingen; In stiller Nacht; Meine Liebe ist grun

Strauss: Das Rosenband; Schlagende Herzen; Ich wollt ein Strauslein binden; An die Nacht

Walton: Three Songs of Edith Sitwell – Daphne; Through gilded trellises; Old Sir Falk

Britten:-  Five Songs of W H Auden – Fish in the unfuffled lakes; Johnny; Let the florid music praise; Seascape; As it is, plenty


A Wigmore Hall recital sets the seal on the burgeoning career of any young singer.  Last night it was the turn of Anna Leese, a soprano from New Zealand and winner of the Richard Tauber Prize (2005)


She sang a wide selection of songs – Brahms and Richard Strauss in German, Britten and Walton in English.  The theme of most of these compositions was Nature and its impact on human existence – birdsong and flowers featuring prominently.


Miss Leese displayed a strong vibrant tone and an innate sense of drama; sometimes the latter led to a tendency to force the vocal line into a climax where it was not required by the music.  This approach was more appropriate in Britten’s treatment of Purcell in Mad Bess , where the singer was not afraid to emphasise the harsh accents of the deranged girl.


The items featuring Brahms’ beloved nightingales highlighted the evocative part played by her accompanist, the indispensable Graham Johnson.


With Richard Strauss, roses featured prominently in the two early songs, although not specifically in Schlagende herzen.  Similarly, Ich wollt ein Strauslein binden does not specify the flowers for the posy rejected by th forlorn admirer.  In contrast An die Nacht needs a forthright manner and the singer left the audience in no doubt that this was an ardent hymn to sensuality.


In Walton’s songs to Edith Sitwell’s texta, the singer’s tone blossomed as she caressed the English words; the tricky rhymes of Old Sir Falk held no terrors for her.  The last section of the concert brought five Britten songs to poems by W H Auden, composed in the Thirties.  The leisurely impressionist Fish in the unruffled lakes was followed by Johnny with its echoes of Kurt Weill.  Miss Leese also caught the triumphant note of Let the florid music praise coping well with the trumpet-like coloratura. In Seascape she conjured up the transient tides glittering in the summer sun; the caustic “As it is, plenty” was delivered with compelling candour – these comments still resound in our contemporary world.


This soprano showed that she can deal with a wide variety of music without once stepping outside the appropriate style.  Her musicianship and attractive stage presence are qualities which augur a successful life in the World of Opera. 


 Stuart Jenkins