Anna Leese and Terence Dennis in wonderful recital at Waikanae

Waikanae Music Society
Anna Leese (soprano) accompanied by Terence Dennis (piano)

Mozart: Ch’io mi scordi di te… Non temer amato bene (K.505)
Schubert: Fisherweise; An die Muik; Die Forelle
Debussy: Nuit d’étoiles; Beau Soir; C’est l’extase languereuse
Richard Strauss: Das Rosenband; Morgen; Zueignung
Tchaikovsky: Tatyana’s Letter Scene (Eugene Onegin)
Smetana: Our Dream of Love (The Bartered Bride)
Dvořák: Song to the Moon (Rusalka)
Canteloube: Baïlèro (Songs of the Auvergne)
Mascagni: Son pochi fiori (L’amico Fritz)
Puccini: Donde lieta (La Bohème)

Waikanae Memorial Hall

Sunday 10 February 2013, 2.30 pm

What an interesting programme this was, with a nice mixture of songs and operatic arias! The known and the less-well-known.

Anna Leese’s voice has developed even more since I last heard her, in the role of Tatyana in Eugene Onegin in Wellington, in 2009.  One of the impressive factors in her singing is her ability to modify style and tone for the character, text and music of each individual song.  Speaking of text; she sang in no fewer than 7 different languages; only one item was in English.  To my ear, her languages were impeccable, and her words clear.  Songs or groups of songs in the first half were introduced with a few words, which were informative but not excessive; similarly, the programme notes were concise and interesting.

From the very first note, Terence Dennis’s accompaniments were exciting to hear.  His outstanding pianism had me in thrall – and not me alone, I discovered in the interval.  He is a national treasure, and to hear (and watch) him play is to rediscover what the piano is all about.  Such is not always the case with pianists.  His pianissimos are to die for.  One factor I noted was that the piano lid was held open on the short stick.  Of course, acoustics vary from hall to hall, but I have often found the other two possible positions unsatisfactory for accompanying singers.

In the lengthy Mozart recitative and aria (a later addition to the opera Idomeneo), Leese made a great contrast between the declamation of the recitative and a smooth rendition of this difficult aria.  Both here and early in the second half of the programme, she had a little difficulty in sustaining the breath, but this problem was brief.  Terence Dennis had to combine orchestra and obbligato piano into one; it was a magnificent outcome.

Schubert’s songs were sung in an appropriately simpler style than was employed for the Mozart.  Here, the partnership between singer and pianist is more equal.  The excellence of Dennis’s playing brought out the many delightful features that Schubert put into the accompaniments and thus their place in the total music more completely than I think I have heard before in live concert.  He put me in mind of Jörg Demus, and even of the great Gerald Moore.  We are very lucky that Dennis chooses to remain in New Zealand.

Debussy’s songs are heard too infrequently (and indeed, how seldom these days, compared with the old days of the NZBC, do we hear professional song recitals).  Those sung by Anna Leese were particularly lyrical and appealing.  Again, the language was beautifully produced, and the accompaniment was never too loud, but gave the music written for the piano its full due.  Debussy’s setting of the words was a joy, and the sensitive performance utterly satisfying.

To many people the two well-known Strauss songs are at the pinnacle of the German song repertoire; “Das Rosenband” was  also a splendid setting.  “Morgen” and “Zueignung” never fail to move.

After interval, we were in the world of opera and therefore piano versions of full orchestral scores (including for the Canteloube, which is not opera).  Tatyana’s Letter Scene must be quite familiar to Anna Leese now, and her Russian language sounded very thoroughly learned and mastered.

Affecting, too, was the lovely ‘Song to the Moon’ from Rusalka, following the very characterful aria from The Bartered Bride, which was sung in English.  Every role was well characterised, making for great variety in the concert.

Terence Dennis was a whole orchestra in one person; dramatic when required to be, and obtaining great contrasts.  This was particularly true in the well-known ‘Baïlèro’.  Here, Anna Leese paid tribute to her accompanist saying that she could only sing a programme like this one because of him.  He certainly had the greater part of the work to do, with lavish orchestral flourishes, while the song’s vocal line was relatively simple.

The aria from Mascagni’s L’amico Fritz was not familiar to me, but nonetheless enjoyable.  The Puccini aria was immaculate, and demonstrated the lovely shine on Anna Leese’s voice.

The audience was privileged to hear such a recital, and was rewarded with an encore – an aria from Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel.

There were over 400 people in the hall and they were very attentive – a factor I’ve noticed frequently at Waikanae.  What an inspiration the concert turned out to be – a marvellous celebration to open the Music Society’s year.


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