A popular lunchtime miscellany from three sopranos at Old St Paul’s

Janet van Polanen, Hannah Catrin Jones and Lydia McDonnell –

Love Songs: traditional and popular, and opera arias

Old St Paul’s, Mulgrave Street

Tuesday 19 July 12.15pm

Three sopranos whose taste and dispositions span the song repertoire from classical through the musical and film hits to old-fashioned ballads and folk songs took their turn at Old St Paul’s regular Tuesday lunchtime concerts.

The early part of the concert included a few opera arias.
None of the three singers would lay claim to polished operatic voices that would meet the expectations of the professional world of opera, though all have studied professionally, but they were nicely placed in a concert of this kind.

Lydia McDonnell sang Cherubino’s aria, ‘Voi che sapete’ from The Marriage of Figaro, charming, though it might not quite have caught the tone of that randy adolescent boy; later she sang most agreeably, Schubert’s Serenade (from his final song cycle, Swan Song).

Hannah Catrin Jones also sang a Mozart aria, Zerlina’s comforting song to Masetto, ‘Vedrai carino’, from Don Giovanni, offering him balm for the injuries the Don has inflicted, with a degree of the coy suggestiveness that the words make plain. Hannah’s second aria was from La Bohème – Musetta’s ‘Waltz Song’ – ‘Quando me’n vo’ which she sang nicely though she took it rather slowly and it was arch rather than simply flighty and self-admiring.

Janet van Polanen’s classical song was the evergreen 18th century aria, ‘Se tu m’ami’ by Alessandro Parisotti (which was one of the many pieces published under the more famous name Giovanni Pergolesi). Though her brief précis of the song was delivered too quietly for most of the audience to hear (the church’s acoustic is not generous for most speaking voices) she caught its sentiment very well.

Janet had opened the recital with a song that was more the predominant style – a charming and still popular song ‘Where do I begin?’, from a classic film of its kind – Love Story – with its soundtrack composed by Francis Lai: it was slightly uneasy, as an opening piece often is, but idiomatic. Later, Janet sang other songs in similar vein: ‘Out of my dreams’ from Oklahoma and Max Steiner’s ‘My own true love’ that became and remains a favourite after appearing in Gone with the Wind.

Hannah Catrin Jones opened her own contributions with Vaughan Williams’s setting of D G Rossetti’s ‘Silent Noon’ from his song cycle The House of Life. She at once displayed an attractive voice, confidently, though the acoustic again made her words a bit indistinct and a mishap with a page of music would have unsettled her.

In a charming, unaffected way Hannah sang At Dawning (‘I love you’), a song by Charles Cadman that became famous in the 1920s; Cadman’s early reputation derived from his interest in and promotion of American Indian music. And later, reflecting her Welsh ancestry, Hannah sang Joseph Parry’s ‘Myfanwy’, with her father Conrad McDonnell accompanying on the guitar: well done. All the other songs were sympathetically accompanied by David Trott at the piano.

After her Mozart and Schubert songs Lydia McDonnell’s later songs included Andrew Lloyd Webber’s ‘Love changes everything’, the best known number from his musical Aspects of Love, a sort of narrative song that she handled rather nicely. And then unaccompanied she sang with touching conviction her last solo – the traditional Irish song ‘My Lagan Love’ dating from the time of harsh English repression.

Together, the three gave the audience an agreeable, rather different experience, with the three voices blending interestingly: ‘Love can build a bridge’, a somewhat sentimental country ballad that had its hour of fame in the early 90s; then ‘Cockles and Mussels’ and finally ‘Pokarekare Ana’, which brought a well-planned and charmingly executed recital to an appropriate end.

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