St.Andrew’s Lunchtime Concert Series presents:
Song Recital : Megan Corby and Craig Beardsworth,
with Catherine Norton (piano)
Works by Grieg, Debussy, Brahms, Verdi,
Kurt Mechem, Paul Bowles, Kurt Weill and Larry Grossman
St.Andrew’s on-The-Terrace, Wellington
Wednesday, 26th April, 2016
Such is the range and scope of song as an art-form that daily programmes such as this beautifully-designed compilation might easily be put together without duplication for eons of time to come. Two of the items presented here could be said to have some kind of well-known currency – Edvard Grieg’s “Jeg elsker dig” (I love you), and Giuseppe Verdi’s duet “Dite alla Giovine” from the opera “La Traviata – the other items may have been familiar to aficionadoes, but seemed less well-known in general, though no less attractive and entertaining for all of that!
So, full marks to these musicians for giving us such an unhackneyed programme, whose content was here put across with the utmost conviction -though I thought their performance of the duet exerpt from “La Traviata” which concluded the presentation almost surprisingly inhibited, after what had gone before – for me the performance somehow lacked the sympathetic glow and sharpness of dramatic focus that I suspect a more theatrical context would have straightaway provided, but which I felt eluded them here.
The rest of the items, though, crackled with dramatic commitment – in fact, just occasionally too much so, as neither singer held back when emphasis and forcefulness was called for, causing some hardening and spreading of their tones at some of the climaxes. I enjoyed more the subtleties both singers brought to the quieter passages of their various songs, and the obvious enjoyment of both word-pointing and sequential phrasings evidenced by both in gesture and facial expression as well as in voice.
Remembering how condescendingly Debussy had put down Grieg’s music at some stage (“a pink bon-bon stuffed with snow”) I thought it revelatory to hear the music of these two composers cheek-by-jowl as it were, with neither having to “draw back” from one another with embarrassment in the other’s company – even if the latter’s name reverted to its Scottish origins as per programme on this occasion!
Craig Beardsworth floated his lines exquisitely at the beginning of Grieg’s “Ein Traum”, supported by beguilingly liquid phrasings from Catherine Norton’s piano, which were flecked most exquisitely with occasional impulses of light – some raw vocal production at the song’s climax didn’t spoil the music’s overall effect, as was also the case with Debussy’s Romance, the singer conveying to us the text’s “celestial sweetness” in the sensitivities of his word-pointing and the jewelled focus of his tones.
Though Megan Corby’s voice was apt to spread when put under pressure, she demonstrated a beguiling sensitivity during the introductory phrases of Grieg’s well-known “Jeg elsker Dig” (I love you), and again during some of the sex-soaked musings of Debussy’s “Le Jet d’Eau” during which the pianist’s colourings and insinuating phrasings couldn’t help but draw one into a kind of sensual trance. An even quieter ecstasy, I felt, from the singer, in places, would have further heightened the suggestiveness of the words and their setting – her pianist was consistently “showing her the way”, opening up the vistas to new and wider musical worlds.
Occasionally Craig Beardsworth’s softer, ultra-focused tones evoked a Gerard Souzay-like vocal quality, which the Brahms “Von ewiger Liebe” particularly brought out at the song’s beginning – the line, the ebb and flow of emotion, and the hint of vocal colouring gave one a lot of pleasure, even if, as the song’s more declamatory sections took over the tones became too harsh to fully enjoy.
I thought both singers revelled rather more in the programme’s more “upbeat” second half, beginning with the heartfelt “Dear Husband, come this fall” from Kirke Mechem’s 2008 opera “John Brown” – Megan Corby’s singing delved deeply into the aria’s world of desperate uxorial devotion, risking hardness of tone with her impassioned delivery, but getting the message across to us with considerable force. The “Blue Mountain Ballads” by Paul Bowles, required less force and more gentle lyricism, which enabled those qualities to come through in Corby’s performance of “Heavenly Grass”, while another song “Sugar in the Cane” responded to rougher, more earthy treatment well.
Craig Beardsworth gave us the other two Ballads from the set, affecting a droll mid-west accent for “Lonesome Man”, his laconic manner abetted by the piano part’s rag-time inclinations, and then relaxing into a more ballad-like style for “Cabin”, wry and nostalgic. Next was Kurt Weill’s “Lonely House” from his stage work “Street Scene”, also given an atmospheric, backward-musing air of decadent old-world charm, supported by a sultry, wryly sentimental piano.
Not so the brash, up-front “Where was I when they passed out luck?” aria from Larry Grossman’s “Minnie’s Boys, which was brilliantly acted out by Beardsworth – “experienced” as much as “sung”, I thought – the almost painfully-insistent tones at the end not inappropriate to the song. As I’ve said, the Verdi duet was, after these energetic outpourings, a bit of an anti-climax – I thought it needed, as I’ve said, more patiently-poised intensity from both the singers and from a strangely inert accompaniment – difficult, of course, to “catch”, away from the through-line of its stage-context.
Moments of delight, then, from all concerned, making for an entertaining and thought-provoking lunchtime sojourn.