Interesting, themed recital by vocal quartet at Old Saint Paul’s

‘The Hunter and the Hunted’

Janey MacKenzie (soprano), Jody Orgias (mezzo soprano), Jamie Young (tenor), Justin Pearce (baritone) and Robyn Jaquiery (piano)

Arias and songs by Tchaikovsky and Handel

Old Saint Paul’s, Mulgrave Street

Tuesday 18 September, 12.15pm

The programme notes were prefaced by the words: “Some hunt for sport. Some hunt for revenge. Others are searching for love.”

Sometimes the search for a theme that might bring to a recital some kind of common thread that seems to make the whole greater than the sun of the parts, is useful, sometimes not. This fell somewhere between, though the ground was well covered by what we heard.

Janey MacKenzie and Jody Orgias opened with two duets by Tchaikovsky.
‘In the garden, near the ford’ opened with rippling piano sounds that accompanied the two very different voices which, however, blended most attractively. In authentic-sounding Russian, their singing lifted the spirits. In a second duet, ‘Dawn’, the two voices evoked a quiet religious air in a chant-like melody, perhaps suitable for the Orthodox equivalent of Matins, in slow waltz time, and they reflected the brightening day in lines than rose in pitch and clarity.

Handel occupied the central group of the recital: three pieces from Giulio Cesare, one from Semele, and one, the trio ‘The flocks shall leave the mountains’, from Acis and Galatea.

Tenor Jamie Young sang ‘Where’er you walk’ (Semele) in a voice that was slightly brittle but more seriously, in a manner that tried too hard with needless ornamentation. As a result it was difficult to conjure an air of gentle longing. Jamie reappeared in the trio from Acis and Galatea, singing the role of Acis which framed his voice to better advantage among other singers. Janey MacKenzie sang the Galatea while Justin Pearce as the nasty Polyphemus interrupted matters with a fine, threatening confrontation.

Here, and throughout, the need to use the scores detracted a little from the creation of an atmosphere seeking to evoke theatrical performance.

The three items from Giulio Cesare came together well; first with Jody taking the alto part of Cornelia to Janey MacKenzie’s Sextus in ‘Son nata a lagrimar’ in Act I where the murdered Pompey’s wife, Cornelia, and their son Sextus lament their predicament, caught up in the political and sexual web through the designs of Ptolemy and his retinue. The emotion was well portrayed.

Earlier in that act, Caesar has been offered duplicitous blandishments by Ptolemy and Caesar invokes a hunting simile in his solo ‘Va tacito’ to hint at the revenge he seeks against the Egyptian king. Jody illuminated the castrato role of Caesar (these days a great role for counter-tenors David Daniels and Andreas Scholl) with the right emotional quality.

The beautiful aria ‘Piangero la sorte mia’ is sung by Cleopatra at the beginning of Act III after Ptolemy’s army has defeated Cleopatra’s forces and she is imprisoned, but dreams of revenge which she and Caesar achieve with Caesar’s surprise defeat of Ptolemy in the last scene. Janey MacKenzie created a convincing Cleopatra both vocally and even visually.

The recital reverted to the late 19th century with another song and two arias by Tchaikovsky. The curtain rises in Eugene Onegin with Tatiana and her sister Olga singing a duet and these two voices simulated the peasant simplicity of the two rather affectingly.

Between the two arias Justin Pearce sang what is probably Tchaikovsky’s best-known song, ‘None but the lonely heart’, a Russian translation of the second of Mignon’s songs from Goethe’s Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahren, ‘Nur wer die Sehnsucht kennt’.

His voice is perhaps a little unyielding for the real emotional force of the song to emerge but the tone or regret and longing were there.

Then from Tchaikovsky’s penultimate opera, The Queen of Spades, the two again took very similar roles, Lisa and Pauline, children of landed gentry, sweetly adopting a peasant song for their pleasure.
It brought to an end an attractive and unusual group of songs in a setting that helped simulate the atmosphere of the theatre.