New Zealand School of Music Post-graduate Student Recitals: Tabea Squire (violin), Imogen Thirlwall (soprano), Kieran Rayner (baritone)
Adam Concert Room, Victoria University of Wellington
Friday, 31 October, 3 and 4 November 2011
What these recitals demonstrated was the very high standard of musicians emerging from university today. All have had performance experience (once much harder to obtain than now), and have emerged fully rounded recitalists.
It is sad that few members of the public attended the violin recital compared with those at the vocalists’; singers have more glamour and appeal, obviously.
Tabea Squire played the Ciaconna from Bach’s Partita no.2 for solo violin, and Poème by Ernest Chausson, the latter accompanied by Emma Sayers. This was an extremely demanding programme. The technical demands were great, including for the pianist, since the Chausson work had the piano playing a reduction from the orchestral score.
The violinist has a natural, non-distracting stance when playing (unlike that of a certain recent overseas soloist with the NZSO). After a bold start to the Bach she exhibited her excellent technique, and great attention to detail. A few minor intonation wobbles did not detract from a fine performance. The tone was sometimes a little raw (her violinist father told me she was playing a new violin), most of which can probably be put down to the Adam Concert Room’s acoustics. Nevertheless, her volume was appropriate and on the whole the sound she made was pleasing.
Runs were very clean, and the techniques of multiple stopping and using the bow across all the strings in succession were taxing but very well done. This was a very skilled, accomplished performance, especially for someone with rather small hands.
Programme notes were good, apart from a few typos.; the works were played from memory.
The Chausson work also had a sturdy start. The double-stopping was excellent, but there were a few fluffs. It was unfortunate that the sustaining pedal on the piano made noises not required by the score.
Sometimes the pitch was slightly under the note, particularly towards the end; the work did not come off as well as did the Bach. Although parts sounded poetic, overall the performance was not quite poetical or ethereal enough. However, the ending was beautifully done.
Imogen Thirlwall gave her recital four days later. Unfortunately I got there late, missing the first four items, (Mozart, Britten, Schoenberg) thanks to a vehicle parked over the end of my drive preventing me from catching the train I intended to be on. Printed programmes had run out by the time I arrived, but I had access to a neighbour’s copy, especially after he left at the first of two short intervals. Approximately 30 people were present. Much of the programme was unfamiliar to me: demanding works by Schoenberg and Barber, for example. Mark Dorrell accompanied well, but sometimes a little too heavily for my taste.
The printed programme was impressive, with a considerable body of notes, and a list of sources at the end. What was even more impressive was the fact that the excellent translations from French, Italian, German and Spanish were all by the singer herself. The other languages in her recital were Latin, English and Russian – a grand line-up.
However, more proof-reading would probably have picked up numbers of errors such as misspellings, words and letters left out, and punctuation mistakes. Worst perhaps, was the misspelling on the back cover of names of those she wished to thank. There were a few oddities in the otherwise thorough programme notes, such as regarding Mozart’s Exsultate Jubilate ‘Even though it was written with a castrato singer in mind, this is often performed by sopranos’! (Who sings it the other times?); Homer’s Odyssey being a novel; being in the Romantic period, and Turina’s and Bellini’s compositions having ‘received… success’ (‘met with’ would convey the meaning better, or ‘received acclaim’, and be more grammatically accurate).
These niggles aside, a fine recital was what the audience received. Imogen Thirlwall conveyed drama in both face and voice, but not to excess. After very satisfactory performances of the two Schoenberg song I heard, we were we treated to a very fine performance of ‘No word from Tom’, from Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress.
Thirlwall was thoroughly on top of her programme. In the two Rachmaninov songs that followed, she produced considerable volume when required, but never too much for the size of the room. These items gave Mark Dorrell a lot of hard work. The singer has lovely tone at the bottom of her voice (unlike some sopranos).
We then turned to opera: a recitative and aria from Bellini’s La sonnambula. Perhaps the volume was a little high in the recitative, but the execution of this and the aria was accomplished, and the florid sections were beautifully performed.
A Poulenc song was admirably sung. Turina followed. I noticed here too much repetition of the opening phrase in the notes: “Turina was a Spanish composer”. Substitute ‘Poulenc’ and ‘French’, ‘Rachmaninov’ and ‘Russian’, etc. But the style of singing was utterly appropriate for the Spanish composer – more expansive, and with more use of portamento. Thirlwall uses her resonators outstandingly well.
After another brief interval we were treated to ‘Quando men vo’ from Puccini’s La Bohème. This was a very classy rendition.
A Debussy song with words by Verlaine was fun and expressive, followed by a cabaret song by Schoenberg sung with character and appropriate tone. The final song was Natural Selection by Jake Heggie, sung with terrific style and panache.
Kieran Rayner had his turn the following day, and a sizeable audience heard him. His printed programme featured woodland scenes in colour on the front and back, and inside the front cover, portraits of the ten composers whose works he would sing. As well, there were a couple of photos of the singer, one of the accompanist, and two taken from productions of the operas (in one case a film production) from which he sang. Rayner had arranged his programme under a series of headings, such as ‘Mischief and Misdirection’; ‘Reminiscence and Regret’.
Unfortunately (from my point of view), the recital was to commence half-an-hour later than had originally been advertised, meaning that I missed the second half, due to another engagement. Thus I did not hear Mozart, Ravel (Don Quichotte à Dulcinée), Donizetti (I imagine the excerpt from L’Elisir d’Amore would have suited this singer well), Tchaikovsky (from The Queen of Spades), Finzi, Britten, and Rossini. This delay was occasioned by the fact that the poor examiners needed a rest in their long day of hearing singers’ recitals.
I had not heard Rayner in this venue before; the acoustic here certainly amplifies the voice compared with that at St. Andrew’s on The Terrace. Rayner was accompanied here by Bruce Greenfield. As always, the latter judges the acoustic exactly right.
The opening aria, from Orlando by Handel, was very florid, but sung with assurance. The low notes were very good, and the articulation splendid.
Next came a nice conceit: excerpts from Mendelssohn’s Elijah presented by a character Rayner called James Leveson-Gower (he couldn’t know that in England this name is pronounced Lewson-Gore), as if part of a television series “The Bible Alive”, this episode being entitled “Elijah’s Road to Redemption”. Rayner assumed spectacles and notes to introduce each aria separately as his character. These interspersed acted elements were effective, and demonstrated the singer’s acting skill.
The recitatives and arias were sung with plenty of feeling and expression; words were very clear, and Rayner used consonants very well. Mainly, the singing was good, but occasionally there was unattractive tone, the voice nearly cracking. Perhaps these bass arias were at times too low for the baritone range. Overall, it was a splendid performance. In addition to the ‘television’ introductions, there were ample notes and the titles were printed, along with a description of the stage of the story into which the arias fitted.
Next up was a taxing ‘Journey Through Grief and Love’: Lieder Eines Fahrenden Gesellen by Gustav Mahler. Again, notes about the composer and the song-cycle, and a complete translation of the words, provided ample apparatus to assist the listener.
I felt that most of these songs needed a slightly more restrained tone: they are poems of woeful contemplation. The third song required a more declamatory style, which suited this singer better; the song was quite fast. The fourth song, ‘Die zwei blauen Augen’ was a little too raw – the voice was sounding just a little tired.
There is a considerable range in these songs; perhaps it was too great for Rayner. Nevertheless, it was accurate singing, with success particularly in his higher register, which is very fine. Bruce Greenfield’s accompaniments were just superb. It was with regret that I dragged myself away; I am sure the second half, particularly the more humorous or light-hearted items, would have been sung very well.