William McElwee (tenor); Carl Anderson (bass baritone); Rebecca Howan (mezzo-soprano); Olivia Marshall (soprano); Tess Robinson (soprano); Rory Sweeney (baritone); Jamie Henare (bass)
Accompanied by Julie Coulson
St Mark’s Church, Lower Hutt
Wednesday 1 August, 12.15pm
This concert featured seven voice students from the New Zealand School of Music who were either first or second year students and it was a first public performance for four of them. I had noticed only a couple of the names in lesser roles of last year’s wonderful production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream: William McElwee and Tess Robinson.
Rory Sweeney had sung three Brahms Lieder a week before with the Bach Choir. He sang one of them again here: Feldeinsamkeit. In this context, with virtually no preceding German songs, it felt a bit naked and unsubtle; so it was interesting to hear his Donizetti aria, ‘Bella siccome un angelo’ (Don Pasquale) which preceded it, a good opera voice in the making, though still some way to go in command of vocal character and agility.
Tess Robinson is a soprano who sang a familiar opera aria and then a couple of more adventurous songs. She introduced the first of them, Alleluia by American composer Ned Rorem in a literate manner, and sang its tricky, syncopated rhythms with spirit; and she spoke admiringly of New Zealand composer Anthony Ritchie’s work to introduce ‘Song’ – to a poem by Baxter. She sang it with real feeling, demonstrating good control of her vocal resources.
Tess’s opera aria was ‘Batti, batti o bel Masetto’ from Don Giovanni in which she somehow expressed the duplicitous character of Zerlina’s plea.
Jamie Henare also sang an opera aria,’Vi ravviso. O luoghi ameni’ from La Sonnambula, with careful handling of the cadenza. There followed a Lied, his voice most imposing in Schubert song – ‘Der Tod und das Mädchen’ – sung as if without effort. With his natural bass voice he later sang ‘Deep River’ with marked ease from the very first notes.
And Rebecca Howan sang the first of Schumann’s Frauenliebe und -Leben: ‘Seit ich ihn gesehen’, with an appropriate simplicity of expression. Her first song had been a setting by Thomas Linley, of an 18th century family of composers; he composed an opera from Sheridan’s The Duenna (which, if you need to know, has had modern operatic settings by Prokofiev and Roberto Gerhardt). There were some florid passages that taxed her in ‘O bid your faithful Ariel fly’ from his incidental music for The Tempest, but her voice and demeanour are attractive.
The recital had started with tenor William McElwee singing two folk-song arrangements by Britten. They may have been placed first because it was felt that his later offering from Lehár’s 1928 operetta Friederike (about a love of the young Goethe – c. 1770: his role was sung famously by Richard Tauber) would leave the stronger impression. It was a shrewd move, for intonation was a problem with Britten’s songs, perhaps not helped by the accompaniment which is clever but, to my ears, needlessly thick and tonally obscure. In contrast he introduced ‘O Mädchen mein Mädchen’ with confidence and humour and sang far more accurately and with a certain aplomb.
Carl Anderson followed, with ‘Shenandoah’, singing guilelessly, with simplicity if not investing it with much magic. His second song was also an old favourite: John Ireland’s Sea Fever, again, he needed to take more pains with phrasing and to capture the poet’s powerful longing for the sea with more conviction.
Each singer introduced the songs with well-chosen, often amusing remarks, generally well projected, and acknowledged graciously the support of pianist Julie Coulson whose playing contributed greatly to the general self-possession they exhibited.
That doesn’t prevent human mishaps. First year student Olivia Marshall tackled a pair of arias: she suffered a memory lapse in Alessandro Parisotti’s ‘Se tu m’ami’ (from a collection called arie antiche purportedly by baroque and classical composers; but this one was by himself) which she sang otherwise with a charming voice, sensitive phrasing and a natural rhythm. Then she sang the aria ‘Let me wander not unseen’ from Handel’s L’allegro, il penseroso ed il moderato. An attractive timbre and handling of jolly dotted rhythms carried her through.
There will be further recitals in other venues from more advanced voice students. They are always very much worth looking out for.