Great New Zealand tenor Keith Lewis in rare recital

Fundraiser for The New Zealand Singing School (Hawke’s Bay)

Songs by Scarlatti, Caccini, Durante, Haydn, Beethoven, Schubert, Bellini, Bizet, Tchaikovsky, Guridi and Piazzola, aria by Cilea and aria and duet by Puccini

Keith Lewis (tenor) with Susan Melville (piano) and Tania Dreaver (soprano)

St. Andrew’s on The Terrace

Tuesday, 10 February 2015, 7.30pm

Keith Lewis presented the audience with an evening of great artistry, ably accompanied by Susan Melville, a Hawke’s Bay musician.  Current doyen of New Zealand tenors, he is little heard, or even known, in his own country.  He gave lovers of the singing voice much to enjoy.  The word ‘mellifluous’ was invented for voices like Keith Lewis’s.

Right from the outset, in Scarlatti’s appealing song Le Violette, Lewis impressed with his enunciation of the words (in six different languages through the course of the recital) and his supreme control and beautiful tone on soft, high notes.

Although the church was fairly well filled, it is a pity that there were not more people present to hear this marvelous singer.  A side benefit of more audience would have been to absorb some of the resonance, which for me was a little too much at times.  Not that Lewis sang too loudly, but the acoustic of the church enhances the sound of the singing voice.

In Amarilli by Caccini (1546 – 1718) Lewis told the story of the love song beautifully, with top notes ‘to die for’, exquisitely projected in the softest of pianissimi. Francesco Durante (1684 – 1755) wrote Danza, danza fanciulla.  It was sung energetically, but tone never suffered.

Switching from Italian to German-Austrian repertoire, Keith Lewis began by singing in English.  The words of Shakespeare from Twelfth Night ‘She never told her love’ were delightfully set by Haydn.  Like so much of Shakespeare, the words ‘like patience on a monument’ have become a frequently used expression.  Here, every word was sung expressively and with meaning.

Beethoven followed, with the wonderful, varied song Adelaide (not with the Australian pronunciation).  The romantic poem was by Friedrich von Matthisson.  Another love song was the well-known Im
(In Spring) by Schubert.  The gorgeous, lilting piano part added immeasurably to the effect of the song.  The sentiments were beautifully conveyed.

With a return to the Italian language, we heard three Canzone from Sei Ariette by Bellini.  After a robust, spirited opener Malinconia, ninfa gentile, Vanne, o rosa fortunata had the singer varying voice and words enchantingly.  The soft tones were more supremely lovely than I have heard from other tenors.  Following the third song, Ma rendi pur contento we turned to French songs by Bizet, which the singer told us he felt particularly close to; they were ‘like little jewels’.  La chanson du fou (Song of the clown) employed  considerable vocal range that was readily encompassed by Lewis.  The language was projected with model enunciation. The song had much character in both the vocal and piano parts.

The second Bizet song, Ouvre ton coeur (Open your heart), was in the style of a Spanish serenade; Bizet’s fame rests largely on the opera Carmen, set in Spain and employing much Spanish idiom.  This song, too, was full of character.

After the interval, we moved to Russia, with Lensky’s aria from Eugene Onegin.  Susan Melville did her best to be an orchestra, and in the main she succeeded.  Lewis gave us much feeling and expression of Lensky’s thoughts and the drama of his situation, facing a duel with his old friend.

Still with opera, we then had two arias from soprano Tania Dreaver, a participant in last year’s New Zealand Singing School.  She sang, from memory, an aria from Cilea’s Adriana Lecouvreur, then
Mimi’s aria from La Bohème (‘They call me Mimi’), which was succeeded immediately by her singing the following duet with Rodolfo (Keith Lewis).  While Dreaver’s vocal technique seemed good on the whole, some of her top notes were slightly metallic and strained, and there were occasional lapses of pitch.  She has plenty of power to deliver the notes and words, but needed more variation of timbre and volume, in what is admittedly a difficult aria.  The duet was sung by a meltingly gorgeous Rodolfo, but again, Dreaver seemed to be straining and forcing at the top, and again there was variation of pitch.  Susan Melville’s accompanying in the Puccini items was particularly fine.

The Spanish song, no.4 of Canciones Castellanas by Jesús Guridi (1886-1961), demonstrated Lewis’s marvellous projection, and also what I was once told: “Do something with every note”.

Another Spanish song followed, by Astor Piazzolla (1921-1992): Milonga Carrieguera, from  an operetta of his.  The emotions of the song came over clearly, and there was much lilting light and shade.  The bitter-sweet mood was perfectly conveyed.  Lewis’s amazing breath control was particularly apparent in this song.

As an encore, Lewis sang an arrangement by Susan Melville of Pokarekare ana, in which birdcalls featured.  It was certainly a different, and attractive, arrangement.

A few criticisms of the printed programme: a few composers’ names were misspelt, and none of their dates were given; it is always helpful in placing lesser-known composers in historical context.  Also, I always appreciate being given the names of the poets whose words the composers set.  After all, songs are a marriage of poetry and music.  The one inspires the other, so it is good to know who has written the former as well as who has composed the latter.

The recital tour continues in Nelson (16 February), Christchurch (22 February), Hastings (27 February) and Auckland (3 March).