Waikanae Music Society
Soloists: Maike Christie-Beekman (mezzo), Robert Tucker (baritone), Emma Pearson (soprano), Declan Cudd (tenor), Kirsten Robertson (piano)
Beethoven: Six songs for soloists
Mahler: Songs from Des Knaben Wunderhorn
Poulenc: Priez pour paix (ensemble)
Quilter: Go Lovely Rose (ensemble)
Rossini: I Gondolieri (ensemble)
Copland: Three songs (ensemble)
Lauridsen: Three songs
Waikanae Memorial Hall
Sunday 2 August 2:30 pm
The journey by train to Waikanae to one of the Waikanae Music Society’s concerts is one of the real pleasures for Wellingtonians; especially bearing in mind that for those of a certain age, train is free. We keep running into people who are unaware of both the delightful train ride (enriched by the sight of endless queues of cars travelling south on the return journey), and the wonderful concerts themselves.
This was a departure from the chamber music recital: four singers plus pianist.
The first four songs, of Beethoven, exposed the four individual voices: Emma Pearson’s operatic scale voice singing the ‘Maileid’ (May Song), unseasonally perhaps, with an attractive, tremulous quality; then Maike Christie-Beekman in ‘Mollys Abschied’ (Molly’s Goodbye); her voice invested with sadness that faded right out at the end. Both were from Beethoven’s eight settings in his early 20s of Goethe poems (Op 52).
Robert Tucker will be remembered from his role as the King in Eight Songs for a Mad King in the Festival in February; he sang the next song, ‘Die laute Klang’, an 1815 song without opus number (WoO). Beethoven was totally deaf by that time and Tucker remarked that Beethoven had taken the liberty to change some of poet Herder’s words (Herder was a little older than Goethe, described as a philosopher and critic rather than a poet). His warm baritone voice produced a striking rendering of this serious song.
Tenor Declan Cudd sang ‘Der Kuss’, (a mischievous poem by not well-known Christian Felix Weiße, two decades older than Goethe). The main element, in hindsight, was Cudd’s teasing words “Lange, lange, lange” to describe the lady’s response to the uninvited kiss.
The last of the Beethoven songs was the duet ‘Lebens-Genuss’ sung by Pearson and Cudd; it was a ‘paraphrase’ of a text by the most prolific of all 18th century Italian opera librettists, Metastasio. The two voices might not have very compatible, but perhaps that was appropriate in this instance.
And it was time to note the beautifully gauged accompaniments throughout by Kirsten Robertson.
Then there were five Lieder from Mahler’s cycle, Des Knaben Wunderhorn. They are taken from a famous eponymous collection of twelve, possibly not-entirely anonymous folk-songs, collected – part written by? – a couple of the many poets who flourished during the height of the German Romantic era around the turn of the century (1800-1810), Achim von Arnim and Clemens Brentano; they were contemporaries of Wordsworth and Coleridge. In general, they don’t touch me as much as do the Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen or the Kindertotenlieder, but the aim of this ensemble was clearly not to pander to tastes limited to just the best-loved songs.
Two voices, Tucker and Beekman, sang the first song, ‘Der Schildwache Nachtlied’, investing it with as much narrative and dramatic quality as possible. The four singers shared the rest of the songs. Almost all the five songs lent themselves to narrative delivery and they were much enlivened in that way. Treatment varied, allowing the piano to tell part of Emma Pearson’s story in ‘Wo die schönene Trompeten blasen’.
The original twelve were published with orchestral accompaniment and then arranged for piano accompaniment. But Mahler removed the last song, ‘Urlicht’, from the collection and used it in the Andante of his second symphony. It’s not clear to me whether or not Mahler made a piano arrangement of it, but Robert Tucker had a hand in the arrangement for piano that we heard, with all four voices, creating a distinct liturgical feeling. The four voices proved to be rather well balanced, bringing the first half of the concert to a happy end.
Sins of old age, and other times…
The second half comprised an interesting variety of music. The earliest was one of Rossini’s Péchés de vieillesse (Sins of Old Age), ‘I gondolieri’. One might have found it hard to guess its composer, especially if Offenbach’s interpretation was in one’s mind. Rossini’s is far from any hint of satire or scornfulness. It was sung rather engagingly, with the slow triple rhythm offering sufficient colour.
The programme was slightly re-arranged. First was Morten Lauridsen’s ‘Dirait-on’ from his cycle Chansons de roses (of 1993): an utterly charming song. I didn’t realise till it began, that I knew it, as American, Lauridsen, has not been in the least absent from the programmes of our choirs. A little search showed that I probably first heard ‘Dirai-on’ (‘one would say’) about four years ago. Leaving the United States for Britain, it was followed by Roger Quilter’s ‘Go lovely rose’, again sung by the quartet, which continued the pattern of affecting, melodious songs of the past century. And then a French song inspired by the approaching Second World War: Poulenc’s ‘Priez pour paix’, ‘Pray for peace’. This might have seemed to minimise the coming horrors: another melodious song, just a slightly disturbing expression, the words of which actually came from late Medieval/early Renaissance (early 15th century) French poet Charles d’Orléans (of course, the war d’Orleans was troubled by was the Hundred Years War between France and England that ended about the time d’Orleans died, 1465).
Three simpler songs, folk songs, by Aaron Copland followed, though they seem not to be called that: ‘Simple gifts’, ‘At the river’ and ‘Ching-a-ring Chaw’. The fours voices in ensemble were again genial, again capturing the warm, sentimental (in the best sense) character of songs that have become a fundamental part of American music.
To finish, Robert Tucker and their admirable pianist Kirsten Robertson, returned to sing Lauridsen’s typically moving ‘Prayer’, and that was capped when Declan Cudd came forward to sing Lauridsen’s best loved ‘Sure on this shining night’; all four joined in the final stanza. That might have done, but it was followed by a return to one of Schubert’s loveliest and most appropriate songs, ‘An die Musik’.
Even with no other Schubert… or Schumann… Brahms or Strauss, this was a very happy recital that might well have signalled hope for our success in continuing to ward off further pandemic dangers.