Scriabin’s Piano Sonata No 2 and Dichterliebe, Op 48 (Schumann)
Jared Holt (baritone) and Nicole Chao (piano)
St Andrew’s on The Terrace, lunchtime, Wednesday18 November 2009
Jared Holt won the Mobil Song Quest in 2000, proceeded to the Royal College of Music in London and through the mid 2000s sang roles at Covent Garden, Glyndebourne and Opera Australia. In September/October he sang Papageno in Southern Opera’s The Magic Flute.
At Canterbury University he took a law degree and has now returned to pursue that as his principal livelihood, in Wellington. Happily, he still sings, in opera and in song recital.
The recital began with the pianist alone, playing Scriabin’s Second Piano Sonata, whose first movement is markedly Lisztian, of the more romantic of the Années de Pèlerinage; though It is flavoured by Scriabin’s melodic fingerprints and the rising augmented fourths and fifths that recur so affectingly in much of his music. Chao’s playing was filled with unaffected rubato, and she easily evoked visions of bare birches and snow-covered pines. Though sometimes compared with his contemporary Rachmaninov, how different, more openly emotional, is Scriabin’s music. The Presto second movement, influenced by another area of Liszt’s genius, was under less control both in dynamics and in clarity at speed; and the boomy acoustic didn’t help. Nevertheless, it was a performance that captured Scriabin’s spirit and his romantic character most satisfyingly.
Though comprising sixteen songs, Dichterliebe is not a long cycle; each song is quite concise, none of Heine’s poems is indulgent and nor does Schumann allow himself to expand the material by repeating lines or stanzas: there is no time for interest to flag,
Though primarily an opera singer, this concert showed a gift in the song repertoire which is supported by taste and finesse, and excellent German diction. However, though St Andrew’s has its virtues, it is given to amplifying bass orchestral sounds as well as distorting focus when voices are too pushed.
I wondered whether he was finding it difficult to judge the responsiveness of the acoustic or was sometimes over-reacting to the occasional emphatic passage from the piano, in his tendency to drive his voice too hard, but in truth, I found the piano’s role always sensitive and supportive, rising and falling in response to the emotion, for example in the striding, widely-spaced melody of ‘Aus alten Märchen winkt es’.
When he went beyond a mezzo-forte in his upper register, vocal focus suffered. That was evident right from the first song, and in ‘Die Rose, die Lillie,,,’, but in the middle register, things were easy and the real quality of his voice could be enjoyed. The calmer, more spoken quality employed in ‘Wenn ich in deine Augen…’, even high up, resulted in a beautifully expressed emotion.
There was never any doubting Holt’s command of his resources or his grasp of the poet’s or the composer’s meaning and intent. If only there was a regular song recital series, comparable to Wellington Chamber Music’s Sunday chamber music series, in which we could enjoy the singing of Wellington’s many excellent singers in the huge repertoire of classical song, live performance of which has become something foreign to many music lovers.