Waikanae Music Society
Takiri Ensemble: Anna Leese Guidi (soprano), Maaike Christie-Beekman (mezzo), Cameron Barclay (tenor). Robert Tucker (baritone), Kirsten Robertson (piano)
Schubert: Songs from Schwanengesang;
Songs and ensembles by Fauré, Ravel, Somervell, Quilter, Vaughan Williams
Waikanae Memorial Hall
Sunday, 2 July 2017, 2.30pm
The reviewing of this concert was shared by Rosemary Collier and Lindis Taylor.
First part: Rosemary Collier
Two years ago the ensemble sang for the Waikanae Music Society; on that occasion the mezzo was Bianca Andrew and the tenor Andrew Glover. That programme also began with a bracket of well-known Schubert lieder, then progressed to Schumann (I’m embarrassed to say his songs were the Spanische Liebeslieder, which in a very recent review of another ensemble I said I was unfamiliar with). The programme continued with New Zealand composers, then Britten and Vaughan Williams.
Our present concert followed a similar structure, but no New Zealand composers were performed.
While some of the songs were in a sad mood, many were not, so I was sorry to see the women of the ensemble dressed entirely in black. However, the singers conveyed the moods of the songs very well, and not necessarily in sombre fashion (some connection with a certain sports event?).
Anna Leese Guidi opened the programme (and was the only one to sing her solos without a score), with the first of the Schwanengesang songs: Liebesbotschaft, with a beautifully rustling brook from Kirsten Robertson on piano. What a gorgeous voice this soprano has! It seemed to me that her voice has more shine that it used to have. Her dynamics were subtle, and the words beautifully expressed and shaded.
Frühlingsehnsucht was sung by Cameron Barclay. He sings with a splendid, forward tone, energy and urgency. His singing of the repeated word ‘Warum’ had real feeling. Ständchen is one of the composer’s best-known songs, and Maaike Christie-Beekman’s singing of it was simply lovely. It was sung slower than I have usually heard it, but was none the worse for that. It was interesting that the superb accompaniments from Kirsten Robertson were all played with the piano lid on the short stick, even the quartets, whereas at the recital I attended on Wednesday, the lid was on the long stick.
A quicker song was Abschied, sung by the tenor; he had a tendency sometimes to slip off, or onto, the note. It was followed by Der Atlas, was sung by Robert Tucker very dramatically with a strong, rich sound and excellent words. This is a demanding declamatory song. An uncertainty about one entry was resolved without breakdown between himself and his accompanist.
Das Fischermädchen was a charming song in the capable hands of Maaike Christie-Beekman, while Robert Tucker gave a very accomplished rendition of Der Doppelgänger. He treated the text with due solemnity, intensity and emotion not to mention a wide range of dynamics. Finally we had Die Taubenpost, sung deliciously by Anna Leese Guidi; a light and bright song to end the cycle.
Next were three ensemble song by the same composer. Der Tanz was performed by quartet; a jolly piece, followed by a duet from Leese and Barclay: Licht und Liebe. It was very appealing – calm and thoroughly pleasant, and beautifully sung. Last in this half was another quartet: Gebet. It was rather Ländler-like (folk-song). Each singer entered in turn, with a little solo passage, the quartet demonstrating excellent blend.
The large audience thoroughly enjoyed the Schubert, and hearing four voices of character and accomplishment.
Second part: reviewed by Lindis Taylor
The second half of the concert was devoted to non-Schubert, French and English songs.
Before the concert I had rather expected a group of real French songs by Debussy, Duparc, Fauré, Berlioz, Poulenc, Ravel and so on. But the French offerings were limited, arrangements, and outweighed by English.
It opened with a Fauré song: Lydia, the poem by Leconte de Lisle, one of Fauré’s earliest, Opus 2. I hadn’t come across the poem either in collections of French poetry or among Fauré’s songs.
It had been arranged by the pianist Kirsten Robertson, for all four voices. Kirsten spoke engagingly about the song and its transformation. She also remarked on Fauré’s using the title as a reference to the Lydian mode – the ancient Greek mode that amounts to a scale on the white notes beginning on F.
This may have been in sympathy with the poetic movement led by De Lisle called les Parnassiens, who rejected romanticism and personal emotion, returning to the notion of ‘art for art’s sake’ in the literature of classical antiquity.
So, this was a song that was cool in character, treating a classical theme of love culminating in death.
As I’ve written before, I have misgivings about arrangements but, as before, I have finished up being surprised at having so enjoyed them. This was the case here too. Nothing about it detracted from its essential Fauré-esque quality, on either the vocal line or its harmonies.
As earlier, Anna Leese Guidi’s voice contributing descant passages, stood out in the second stanza, perhaps outshining the others at times, but what could she do about that?
The other Fauré song was a duet, Pleurs d’or (Tears of gold), a setting of a poem by a much more obscure poet, Albert Samain, and again not a song I knew. It was sung by the two women (though I’ve now encountered it by soprano and baritone). I confess, not my sort of poem and perhaps that’s why Samain isn’t up there with Baudelaire and Verlaine. Their voices were attractively contrasted and the piano rippled unobtrusively under them.
The next song was a real curiosity – an arrangement by English baritone and composer Roderick Williams of the second movement of Ravel’s piano concerto in G. It proved a singularly lovely candidate for such an arrangement: the original was for eight voices and several French verses, which the programme did not identify; the vocal part was based on the orchestral score while the piano solo served as the accompaniment. The effect was more than a little entrancing, though I suspect eight voices would have been even better.
Then France was abandoned (as the British seem wont to do) and we heard a song by one Arthur Somervell to Twist me a Crown of Wild Flowers, a poem by Christina Rossetti who was associated, with her brother Dante Gabriel Rossetti with the Pre-Raphaelites, that somewhat effete brotherhood of writers and artists that included Holman Hunt, Millais, Burne-Jones, Waterhouse, William Morris, Ruskin, Swinburne and so on… It was a rather charming, languid song, sung by all four.
Roger Quilter came second to Schubert in the number of his songs (six) in the recital. Shelley’s Love’s Philosophy sung by Anna alone, her brilliant top handled the setting admirably. And then Tennyson’s Now Sleeps the Crimson Petal, offered mezzo Maaike a contrasting song, handling the more subdued music very sensitively.
Quilter himself wrote the words for the next song, Summer Sunset, and the two men sang it, a harmless, sleepy piece in which the two found a happy accord.
The poem by one Norah Hopper, Blossom Time, was for the two women, a feather-light song, rather melancholy perhaps, but occasionally, Quilter goes a bit deeper than he is wont to do. And those moments were arresting.
Cameron Barclay alone sang an anonymous song, Weep you no more, Sad Fountains, which I thought didn’t do him any favours, as it drew attention to a certain inability to project characterfully.
Finally another anonymous 16th century song: Fair House of Joy where Robert Tucker suddenly revealed a stronger and more colourful voice than I’d been hearing earlier. Perhaps because the song plumbs rather greater depths and it drew a more dramatic strain, fuller, and well projected.
The concert ended with a song that was arranged by Robert specifically for the ensemble: Vaughan Williams’s, Silent Noon, a sonnet by the above-mentioned Dante Gabriel Rossetti (interestingly, originally written in Italian). Appropriately, this very well loved song was for the full complement, each voice taking its turn at the beginning, but soon the four voices came together, and here was truly exposed the strengths of a quartet of professional voices, and compelling admiration for the arrangement. In response to the audience reception the quartet sang Vaughan Williams’s Linden Lea: these two great songs establishing the real qualities of the English song tradition.