Lunchtime Lieder : a concert of German Romantic songs by Mendelssohn, Schubert, Brahms
Bridget Costello and Amelia Ryman (sopranos), Kieran Rayner and Thomas Barker (baritones), Martin Ryman (piano)
St Andrew’s on The Terrace
Wednesday, 22 June 2011, 12.15pm
With an interesting programme, this concert had added appeal for the opportunity to hear and see students from the New Zealand School of Music performing lieder.
So much the better that the singers were accompanied by an accompanist marked by sensitive and musical playing; the piano lid being on the short stick seemed just right when the accompanying was in the hands of Martin Ryman.
A first impression from the opening Mendelssohn duet, ‘Gruss’, sung by the two women, was the good projection of the voices and the excellent German words. I have an old and treasured, recording of Victoria de los Angeles and Elisabeth Schwarzkopf singing this duet with Gerald Moore accompanying. It would be hard to say that these young women were inferior!
The men sang ‘Wasserfahrt’ by the same composer as their duet. This introduced the subject of water, which was the theme of about half the songs on the programme. Rayner and Barker both have robust, well-produced voices. They made both these songs really alive.
We then turned to Schubert, beginning with the well-known ’Wohin?’ (surely ‘Whither?’ is a more poetic, if slightly archaic, translation than ‘Where to?’?). Kieran Rayner’s excellent diction and projection were complemented by lovely dynamic shading. A couple of times he sang a tiny bit sharp, but overall it was a great performance; he could teach some more experienced singers about enunciation.
I was pleased to find such an emphasis on getting the words over, and providing the meaning to the audience from very good programme notes, written by the performers. Some lieder singers (and audiences) think it’s all about music and melody, whereas lieder is a marriage between poetry and music. The music conveys the meaning of the words; it is not there just to make a lovely sound. Hence my dislike of being plunged into the dark, or semi-dark at some concerts, so that the words or the programme notes cannot be read. It would have been great to have had the words printed in full, but good programme notes are the next best thing.
‘Am Feierabend’ (not ‘Fierabend’ as in the programme) was Rayner’s next song. He characterised well the young apprentice lad, and then changed his tone and mode of delivery to be the master miller, most effectively.
Amelia Ryman sang ‘Im Frühling’ very feelingly. She has a clear voice and varies her expressiveness appropriately.
Thomas Barker followed with ‘Der Schiffer’ (The Boatn’), with great vigour. This was the only song where the performer had to rely to some extent on the printed music. Martin Ryman brought out the busy accompaniment superbly, as elsewhere.
Bridget Costello returned to sing the beautiful ‘Auf dem Wasser zu singen’. This was not quite so satisfactory. The note couplets were frequently rushed, and not made distinct as in the accompaniment. It’s great to get the consonants over clearly, but they should not cut up the legato of a song as they did here.
‘Am bach im Frühling’ was given very characterful singing by Thomas Barker, and his German pronunciation was excellent. Consonants were given their place, but they were not overdone.
The singers took a break while Martin Ryman played Brahms’s Intermezzo Op.118 no.2. It was delightful to hear one of these shorter piano pieces – and one of such charm; piano recitals tend to be made up of more substantial works.
Now we were in Brahms territory, and Bridget Costello was next up, to sing his Lament ‘Ach mir fehlt’. Consonants were not a problem this time. Some movement of the arms and legs seemed unnecessary to me (I known there are more than one school of thought about this semi-acting of lieder.) Altogether, the song was tellingly performed.
Now for a really humorous song, which could take its little bit of acting from Amelia Ryman: ‘Vergebliches Ständchen’, translated here as ‘The vain suit’. Nevertheless, most of the meaning and characterisation came through the voice. There was occasional variability of intonation, but it was slight, and the voice itself was very secure.
The concert ended with a quartet by Schubert: ‘Der Tanz’. It was a vigorous finale to a wonderful programme.
The voice students of the New Zealand School of Music seem to get better and better each year. They obviously have talent and work hard, and show what first-class teaching they receive.
The good attendance demonstrates that audiences want to hear lieder – many of the people were not St. Andrew’s ‘regulars’. Let’s have more!