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Lieder & Russian songs

Gees: Mondlied eines Madchens; Nachtens

Schubert: Erlkonig; Des Fischers Liebesgluck

Schumann: Muttertraum; Lust der Sturmnacht

Mendelssohn: Neue Liebe

Brahms: Die Mainacht; Von ewiger Liebe

Mussorgsky: Gde ty, zvjozdocha; Kolybel’naja pesnja

Mahler: Wo die schoned Trompeten blasen; Um Mitternacht

Tchaikovsky: Snova, kak prezhde Op73 No 6

Improvisations on Texts by: Shakespeare, Keats & Hesse

Lenia Safiropoulou – soprano

Michael Gees - piano

The Benaki Museum Cultural Centre, Athens, 30 November 2009

This was an exceptional concert, by any standard.  Taken at its simplest, it was a recital of lieder and Russian songs prepared and presented with loving care.  But this was by no means a simple programme; dramatic and poetic texts, with improvisations for piano and voice part spoken part sung, were interwoven into the mix to conjure up the magic of the night and create a unity of mood and purpose.  For example, a backdrop created from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, with its spotted snakes, weaving spiders, beetles black led directly to Goethe’s terrifying night gallop of the Erlking.  


The singer, soprano Lenia Safiropoulou, is known to London audiences through her appearances whilst studying at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama and National Opera Studio.  Since then she has continued her studies in Berlin and Paris and her voice has gained in maturity and colour. She demonstrated a well-focused tone and solid technique, with thrilling top notes whilst her voice was equally secure at the bottom of the register.  Vibrato was applied thoughtfully, lines were beautifully spun and there were some heartmeltingly lovely portamenti.


Erlkönig was very impressive, not something that is easily carried off by a soprano.  All four of the Russian songs were memorable and I particularly liked Mussorgsky's "Where are you little star", which had just the right level of rapt intensity.


The pianist, Michal Gees, has an extensive discography of recordings made with Christoph Prégardien and is also a composer – two of the songs in the programme were his – the long postlude to Nachtens is totally ravishing.  He has a deft lightness of touch and the stylistic confidence to experiment with phrasing. 


There was clearly a high level of synergy between the two performers, and the audience clearly felt the heightened mental energy and exchange of ideas in their improvisations. Lenia's elegant cream gown and subtle adjustments to the lighting all contributed to the mood.   Starlight most certainly shone in the hall that night. 


Serena Fenwick