Schumann: Liederkreis, Op.39;
Schubert: The Shepherd on the Rock, Op.129
Rhona Fraser (soprano), Richard Mapp (piano), Hayden Sinclair (clarinet)
St Andrew’s on The Terrace
Wednesday, 21 March 2012, 12.15pm
This was a wonderful opportunity – there are so few lieder recitals these days. Yes, we hear students from the New Zealand School of Music from time to time, but they don’t sing entire song cycles or extended works such as the Schubert one we heard in this concert.
Schumann wrote two song cycles entitled ‘Liederkreis’ (which simply means song cycle); this second one sets poems by Eichendorff.
Rhona Fraser does not have a huge voice, but it is clear, and her pronunciation and enunciation of the words was excellent. I thought Richard Mapp was a little too loud at the beginning of the recital, but this soon ceased to be the case.
It was interesting to hear the singer in this repertoire; previously I have heard her only in opera, i.e. the operas she has promoted and sung in, in her beautiful garden at Days Bay.
The opening Schumann song ‘In a Foreign Land’ was quiet and contemplative. The programme gave the translations of all the words, which was excellent, but it was a pity not to have also a few notes about the works performed, e.g. the poets’ names (the words Schubert used were by more than one poet), dates of composition and so on.
The third song ‘A Forest Dialogue’ was one of a number of songs more frequently heard than others. This has mainly been on the radio, but also from visiting singers. It was also one of the most musically descriptive (which probably accounts for its greater popularity), as the words describe the words and actions of the enchantress Lorelei. As I have seen myself ‘…from its towering rock My castle looks deep and silent down into the Rhine.’ Rhona Fraser characterised all this amply, in her changes of tone.
The fourth song, ‘Silence’, featured a wonderful accompaniment describing the words about stillness, and then about the singer wishing to be a bird flying across the sea.
‘Moonlit night’, the fourth song, was another well-known one, and the following ‘A beautiful foreign land’ again demonstrated Fraser’s ability to evoke the mood beautifully, and make the words very clear.
The seventh song, ‘In the castle’ called on the lower register, revealing rich low notes in Rhona Fraser’s voice; again, the mood was capture and conveyed well, as a wedding procession and party were described.
‘Sadness’, the ninth song, typified the mood of all the songs –romantic longing, with frequent forests occurring, as we;; as foreign lands, nightingales, and sorrow. This was another that I have heard more often, as was the twelfth and final song, ‘Spring night’. Finally, we seemed to leave the dominant sad, romantic, almost cynical theme of the poems with their message that happiness is brief and illusory. This song ended the cycle on a hopeful note. Idiomatic playing from Richard Mapp assisted throughout to give the music meaning and beauty.
The extended song by Schubert, with its beautiful clarinet obbligato, I have not heard live for decades. The playing of Hayden Sinclair was glorious. The singer exhibited a fine, rich sound in the third verse, where the mood becomes dark and hopeless; the tension here was built very well. (The piece is not formally divided into verses, but there are clarinet solos between the various sections of words).
In the latter part of the piece, the singer’s breathing was sometimes noisy. Here also, a few notes were not quite on the spot, or were slurred from too quickly in the more florid passages. Vocally, the Schubert was not as satisfactory as was the Schumann cycle, but top notes were very secure. It was great to hear this music; the clarinet and piano were both splendid, and the singer mostly so.