Göknil Biner and Tom McGrath deliver delightful recital of Schubert, Schumann and Fauré songs, plus Scriabin piano piece

Tom McGrath (piano) and Göknil Meryem Biner (soprano)

Songs by Schubert, Schumann and Fauré; piano music by Scriabin

St. Andrew’s on The Terrace

Wednesday, 1 March 2017, 12.15 pm

It was a pleasure to have out-of-town performers at the lunchtime concert; this married couple are from Dunedin, where Tom McGrath is on the staff of the University of Otago.

The programme consisted of some familiar Schubert and Schumann lieder and songs by Fauré, and others less familiar.  All the words were printed in translation, and the authors of the poems were given.

The first Schubert lied was An die Natur, written when the composer was still a teenager.  Simple musically, the song was nevertheless delightful, and given an appropriately artless performance.  It was followed by Geheimes, and then Das Rosenband (though these were printed in the translations in the wrong order).  The former was brighter than An die Natur, but also with simple melody, plus a rocking accompaniment.  It dates from 1821.  The latter was another charming love song, from 1817.

With Die Forelle we were into more familiar territory.  It is thought to have been composed in 1817 also.  The brook was indeed bright, and the darting fish therein made for a much livelier, swifter song and accompaniment.

Erster Verlust  was in a more doleful mood, describing the first love that was now over in the words of Goethe.  The song dates from 1821.  The performers brought out the sad mood very well.

The bracket was completed with the well-known Gretchen am Spinnrade, based on Goethe’s Faust.  With its agitated lines for the singer and the constant evocation of the movement and sounds of the spinning wheel in the piano accompaniment, it is an amazing composition for a 17-year-old.  The lovely quality of the singer’s voice was particularly notable in this song, and the variation of dynamics from both musicians.  Elsewhere, the slight edge to the voice was not always suitable to the songs.

We moved to a piano solo: Poème-Nocturne Op.61, by  Alexander Scriabin.  This ‘dreamy and elusive masterpiece’ (as the programme notes described it) was played without the score.  There were many colours in the piece, giving it an impressionistic flavour.  It was well played, but I have to confess the composer’s music does not appeal to me.

Then came Schumann lieder, several concerning flowers; firstly, his well-known Widmung, with words by Friedrich Rückert.  Here, the drama of the accompaniment was well exposed.  The familiar song was done full justice by the musicians.   However, I do object to the translation using the word ‘Oh’, as in ‘Oh you are my pain’.  The ‘O’ of invocation is not to be confused with the mild exclamation ‘Oh’.  This misuse occurred again in the translation of Fauré’s Nell.  Impassioned lovers do not say ‘oh’ to the objects of their affection.

Heinrich Heine’s Die Lotusblume received a gentle setting from the composer.  Biner used the words beautifully in her performance.  Jasminenstrauch and the longer Märzvellchen were both charmingly sung; the piano accompaniments were impeccable.

Now for a complete change of style: Fauré’s settings of poet Paul Verlaine and others. Fauré’s music so appropriately sets Verlaine’s poetry.  The aim of the Symbolist poets was ‘to evoke moods and feelings through the magic of words and repeated sounds and the cadence of verse (musicality) and metrical innovation’ according to Wikipedia; poetry so different from that set by Schubert and Schumann.  Still romantic, but in quite a different style. The performances of Mandoline, Green, C’est l’extase langoureuse, Nell and Notre Amour were enchanting.  These were brilliant songs for both singer and accompanist.

I trust it is not demeaning to suggest that it is significant that McGrath teaches at Otago University, where resides the incomparable accompanist Terence Dennis.


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