Two fine sopranos in rare, varied, Wigmore Hall-quality recital

Songs by Mendelssohn, Saint-Saëns, Brahms, Korngold, Schubert, Chausson, Delibes, Berlioz and Britten

Georgia Jamieson Emms and Megan Corby (sopranos), Catherine Norton (piano)

St. Andrew’s on The Terrace

Wednesday, 29 June 2016, 12.15pm

Here was a recital that would have hacked it in the Wigmore Hall, London, or in any other suitably-sized venue, for that matter.  It was good to have a programme (mainly) of duets – so rarely heard these days.

The programme began with great panache, in ‘Herbstlied’ and ‘Maiglökchen und die Blümelein’ from Sechs Duette by Mendelssohn.  The voices were well-matched, and Catherine Norton, as always, was a reliable and sympathetic accompanist.  The pronunciation of German was throughout the concert uniformly very good.  The first song began the recital at a very high standard.  Meaningful facial expressions were employed by both singers, and some hand gestures – the latter a little excessively in Corby’s case.

Mendelssohn’s ‘Auf Flügeln des Gesanges’ (On Wings of Song) is a much-loved solo song; the poem is by Heinrich Heine.  Although it has received many arrangements, I do not remember hearing it as a duet before; it was delightful and charming.

The French love-affair with things Spanish in the latter part of the nineteenth century extended to Saint-Saëns writing a song in that language and idiom: ‘El Desdichado’ (Boléro).  Written originally for orchestral accompaniment, it was a sparkling song that I didn’t know.  There was plenty of scope for the voices, the Spanish character was communicated well, but the piano accompaniment especially was magical quicksilver.

A change of mood came with Brahms; ‘Wie Melodien zieht es mir” is a lovely song, but I would have liked more dynamic variety in this contemplative piece, which was a solo presented by Megan Corby.  Georgia Jamieson Emms followed with her solo, which was ‘Schneeglöckchen’ by Korngold.  This was a lovely rendition of an unfamiliar song.  Its style eminently suits this voice.  The singer gave it varied expression and dynamics most attractively.  I felt she was conveying the meaning of each word.

The greatest writer of lieder, Schubert, was represented by the duet ‘Nur wer die Sehnsucht kennt’ a sombre, sad, dramatic song, quite difficult to perform.  The two voices go their separate ways much of the time.  Catherine Norton’s varying dynamics were superb.

Chausson’s  ‘ La Nuit’ and ‘La Réveil’ (Deux Duos) were much more harmonic in character than the Schubert.  The first was interesting and subtle; the singers’ vowels matched beautifully.  The second was enchanting and engaging; the French pronunciation was excellent.

Still in France, we had ‘Les trois oiseaux’ by Delibes and ‘Le Trébuchet’ from Fleurs des Landes by Berlioz.  The former was a mildly humorous song, in separate episodes for the two voices; depicting the dove, the eagle and the vulture, then the voices came together in thrilling conversation, before separate utterances again, but a unified ending.  The story was communicated brilliantly.

Berlioz’s song was even more amusing, about tentative lovers.  A sparkling accompaniment contributed hugely to a delicious duet performance.

Finally, it was almost strange to hear the English language, in another sparkler: ‘Underneath the Abject Willow’, by Benjamin Britten, a setting of words by poet W.H. Auden.

It would have been good to have had the names of the poets whose words inspired these songs printed in the programme, but it was very useful to have translations of the opening lines, and the composers’ dates.  Music scores were used throughout; in Megan Corby’s case, on an iPad.

With these two singers, there was never any question about intonation.  Both intonation and timing were spot on all the time.  To have such splendid accompaniment was a great bonus.

While not as many attended as at some recent St. Andrew’s lunchtime concerts, those who did were delighted with what they heard.


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