Songs by Rossini, Debussy, Chausson and Poulenc
Janey MacKenzie (soprano), Jodi Orgias (mezzo soprano), Robyn Jaquiery (piano)
St Andrew’s on The Terrace
Wednesday 21 April 12.15pm
The concert title might have celebrated the season but there was little in the programme, other than the last of Poulenc’s songs, that seemed specific to April either in the northern or southern hemispheres.
However, let us suppose (I don’t know) that the Venetian regatta takes place in April; Rossini’s infectious duet (La regatta veneziana from Les soirées musicales) opened the lunchtime concert to delight a well filled church, with the two rather different voices which, however, blended happily to produce boisterous, rocking rhythms and sparkling tunes; and an accompaniment that relished its showy little rising arpeggios and gondolier-flavoured triple time. They followed with a second duet, La pesca (from the same set), less ebullient but just as charming with its gentle swaying rhythm.
The concert ended with another Rossini duet, from Semiramide – ‘Serbami ognor’. Again in triple time, with nothing radical in terms of harmony, but a brilliant vehicle for the crucial misunderstanding between Queen Semiramide and Arsace (a trouser role for contralto) that the music reflects and the two singers captured excellently.
The pair also sang a couple of duets by Chausson – La nuit (a poem by Théodore de Banville) and Réveil (by Balzac) – in which the two voices seemed a little more exposed. Rossini’s extrovert bravura seemed to bother them less than the finesse demanded for these near-impressionist songs. Here and there were signs of discomfort, lack of perfect focus, but there was far more astute and intelligent interpretation, where, again the two quite distinct voices created a persuasive blend.
Each singer had a solo bracket. Jody Orgias sang four Debussy songs. The first two, ‘C’est l’extase’ and ‘Il pleure dans mon coeur’, by Verlaine, in Debussy’s collection Ariettes oubliées of 1888; the third and fourth, Romance (poem by Paul Bourget), and Dans le jardin (by Paul Gravolet): all relatively early songs. Her dark, throaty voice, that tends nasal in the upper part, may not be conventionally beautiful, but has the advantage, especially in the way she uses it, of investing songs with character, of drawing attention to their meaning and their emotion. The result, in ‘C’est l’extase’ for example, was not an overtly voluptuous sound perhaps, as from in the mouths of some singers, not ideally legato, yet the sensuousness remained, and an immediacy.
Debussy’s setting of ‘Il pleure dans mon coeur’ has never seemed to reflect my own feeling about the poem: not sufficiently melancholy, and this performance was no different. Jody sounded comfortable in the Romance, with pianist conspicuously capturing that always important contribution, but did not entirely convince in Dans le jardin which is conversational in tone, rhythmically ambiguous and not perhaps among Debussy’s masterpieces.
Janey MacKenzie’s offering was the Poulenc cycle, La courte paille (The short straw – isn’t it curious that the rather contemporary metaphor existed in 1960?). In the 40 to 60 years since Debussy’s songs, a major French composer has stripped away the mystery, ambiguity, harmonic and rhythmic obscurity of the Debussy era in favour of cleaner, simpler lines and harmonies. She approached the seven songs confidently, at home in the various styles, rhythms, moods, finding their quirky or absurd wit through both her voice and demeanour.
How lucky we are to have such an institution as the free St Andrew’s concerts and musicians prepared to give their time and efforts freely to make them happen!