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Beethoven, Dvořák, Peterson-Berger, Berg, Schumann, Wolf and Blake Beethoven: 7 Variations on Mozart’s Bei Männern, welche Liebe fühlen (1801) Dvořák: Rondo, op.94 (1893) Wilhelm Peterson-Berger: Three Songs Alban Berg: Sieben Frühe Lieder (1905/1908) Schumann: 5 Stücke im Volkston, op.102 (1849) Wolf: 12 Songs from the Italienisches Liederbuch (1890/1896) Howard Blake: Sleepwalking, op.599 (2009)


Julia Sporsén – soprano; Ashok Klouda – cello; Joseph Middleton – piano


Wigmore Hall, London: 11 January 2010


Unlike so many young artist concerts in London, this one actually had all the performers working together, a welcome change from the more usual two separate programmes.


Ashok Klouda played Beethoven in a very suave way – who would have thought that was possible ? – relishing the jokes, there are a lot of them here, and giving full rein to the lyrical impulse. The Dvořák Rondo is a lovely throw-away piece of fluff and our player, by enjoying himself, truly entertained his audience. The Schumann Pieces in Folk Style came across, oddly, as the most serious of the three cello works. Yet, Klouda found a rich vein of lyricism and profundity I’d never noticed before. His playing was big and audacious and the emboldened playing lifted this somewhat slight piece into another realm.


Julia Sporsén is not only the possessor of a fine voice, she fully understands how to shade her instrument, and what vocal colour is required for whatever she is singing. The three songs by her compatriot Peterson-Berger - a comedy, a nocturne and a drama – were perfectly placed. Likewise the Alban Berg songs, seven very difficult and uneasy settings of various German poets in an early expressionistic style which leaves little for the singer to do except sing. Sporsén managed to break the unrelieved romantic torpor with some flashes of insight into loss and longing. The selection of Wolf’s Italienisches Liederbuch showed her off to good effect, a soprano with a powerful and fruitily rich chest register which she used to good effect from time to time.


Pianist Joseph Middleton was with both his partners in every bar, helping to highlight their performances but never remaining in the background as an apology for a pianist; a fine and intelligent musician. But although the Wigmore Hall is not a large auditorium, when using the full stick the piano can make a big sound against which the cello doesn’t stand a chance! * I don’t believe that this can be properly gauged from the stage.**


To end a real treat - the première of a new piece by Howard Blake, commissioned for the three musicians. Sleepwalking takes us from restful sleep and sweet dreams, through a nightmare world of undisguised strangeness and scarey monsters  back to the sleep of the innocent. It’s a 12 minute vocalise (an arrangement of an earlier piece for soprano and eight cellos) which works well with a single cello and piano. A stunning show well appreciated by the Monday night audience risking the poor weather. 


Bob Briggs

* q.v. - - the sound of his piano, on the short stick, was trapped and buried under its lid. Trumpeter Alison Balsom explained to me that this set-up was used because she has a problem 'hearing herself' play in Wigmore Hall with the lid fully open; I have always remembered Szymon Goldberg, at a violin master-class I attended in 1957, memorably insisting that pianos should never be put on short stick.

** agreed ! - - Takacs quartet's unique rehearsal technique, with three members of the quartet on stage playing, whilst a fourth (ringing the changes) listened and commented. No detail escaped their scrutiny [Editor]