Benefit duet for mezzo and piano

Felicity Smith (mezzo-soprano) and Catherine Norton (accompanist) Benefit Concert


St. Mark’s Church. Lower Hutt


Saturday 8 May, 3.30pm


A delightful recital by two well-qualified young musicians, both already having quite impressive track-records took place on Saturday.


Felicity Smith has a strong voice, well supported, with warm and full tone.  Her opening aria, ‘Parto, parto’ from La Clemenza di Tito by Mozart made a stirring opening.


The church’s acoustics are good, and it was notable (compared with some recent venues for recitals) that it was not too resonant, enabling the accompanist to have the piano lid on the long pin. 


The balance was good at all times between the two performers.  However, the acoustics could not cope with announcements of the items made far too quickly and quietly.  There were over 60 people in the audience; they all need to hear what the items are.  A larger building demands slower speech; conversational speaking will not do, nor will speaking at the bottom of the voice.  (I obtained the titles and composers of some of the items after the concert).


Three Roger Quilter songs were very expressive, and the words clear. They were ‘Now sleeps the crimson petal’, ‘Weep you no more’ and ‘Fair house of joy’ (as a poem, probably better known by its first line, ‘Fain would I change that note’.)  The accompaniments were beautifully realised throughout the recital, but especially in these songs.  The accompaniment for the Mozart aria, being written for orchestra, does not come off so well on piano.


A piano solo followed: the first movement of Mozart’s sonata K.333.  While well played overall, some notes, particularly at the ends of phrases, were indistinct, and pedalling occasionally blurred the line.


The aria ‘O ma lyre immortelle’ from Gounod’s opera Sapho, followed, sung in excellent French (which Felicity Smith studied for her BA).   The singer projects well, which is so essential in an opera singer.  Perhaps she needs to relax a little; a  slight tension appeared sometimes reflected in the voice, and in noisy breathing as the recital wore on.


Purcell’s lovely song ‘Music for awhile’ was sung with beautiful control, including the singing of ornaments.  It was followed by a spirited rendering of an aria from Handel’s Giulio Cesare.

After the interval, Chopin’s enchanting Berceuse was sensitively and attractively played by Catherine Norton.


This was followed by three folk-songs arranged by Benjamin Britten: ‘The Ash Grove’, ‘Ca’ the Yowes’ and ‘The Brisk Young Widow’; these were very effective, and featured sympathetic expression of the words.  Then, also in the 20th century, Prokofiev’s lively piano solo Sarcasm, an excellent piece in bracing style.

‘Spiel’ auf deine Geige’ by Robert Stolz about a gipsy violin and ‘Youkali’, a French song by Kurt Weill about a utopia, ended the programme.  The former revealed very characterful singing, while the latter, which employed a large range from contralto into soprano, was quite charming, and provided a lovely ending to the recital.


This was a very musical presentation by a fine singer and a very good accompanist.  We can but wish them well in their overseas studies and their careers to follow, and hope that they return to New Zealand before too long.


Further concerts will take place: 9 June, 12.15pm at St. Andrew’s on The Terrace (Felicity), 2 July (tbc) St Peter’s Willis St (Felicity), 1 August, St. Andrew’s on The Terrace (Catherine’s farewell concert), mid-late August (date and venue tbc), Felicity’s farewell concert.


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