A fine recital of Fauré mélodies at St Andrew’s

Songs by Fauré sung by The VoxBox:  Megan Corby (soprano) and Craig Beardsworth (baritone)

St Andrew’s on The Terrace

Wednesday 29 August, 12.15pm

I last heard these two accomplished singers at a lunchtime concert at St Mark’s church, Lower Hutt, a few months ago, when  they sang an amusing variety of American songs. For Wellington City they chose a slightly more rigorous programme, though only in the sense that all the songs were by one composer, and a classical composer whom many would not rank among the top ten.

But this little recital went some way to establish Fauré as a composer who can easily sustain interest in a programme dedicated solely to him.

The two took turns. Megan Corby sang the first two songs: Au bord de l’eau, a charming barcarolle, which served to get piano and voice in balance with each other; dynamics were a little uneven, but her French was carefully delivered; then Ici bas, in which her attractive voice found a comfortable level; it’s a lament on the shortcomings of life on earth compared with another life elsewhere. Both were songs to poems by Sully-Prudhomme. (He was associated with the group known as Parnassiens, who advanced the notion of l’art pour l’art – ‘art for art’s sake’).

Craig Beardsworth sang a third song to a Sully-Prudhomme poem, Les berceaux. It was good to hear his voice in such good shape, in a song that called for subtlety where his velvety baritone seemed sleepily suited; the idea is unusual, with a rocking motion that relates both to a cradle, and to a boat whose shape also suggests a cradle: the words reflect on the roles of men and women,

Megan returned for Aurore by an obscure poet, Armand Silvestre, and her voice flowed comfortably over its long lines. (Silvestre, incidentally, was more noted as a playwright; he wrote the play HenryVIII that Saint-Saëns set as an opera). She followed with the languorous Les roses d’Ispahan by Leconte de Lisle, the leader of the Parnassiens, capturing a fitting sensuous quality.

Craig offered a few comments before some of his songs. He explained the origin of Nell (also Leconte de Lisle), as derived from a poem by Burns and his singing was enriched by its varied timbres. Craig’s remarks before several of the songs were apt and well-informed: I am not one who has an objection to performers speaking.

Megan next sang one of Fauré’s best-known songs, Après un rêve. Her delivery was a little more declamatory than its lines seemed to suggest to me: rather whispered.

Craig, without the score in front of him, sang a trilogy of songs, Poème du jour (by another obscure poet, Charles Grandmougin). Though minor poems, Fauré has created a set of expressive songs telling a predictable little love story, in which Craig’s voice rose comfortably, occasionally, into the tenor register.

Megan’s final songs were Chanson d’amour, Clair de lune and Mandoline – the last two to poems by Verlaine. Chanson d’amour was slight enough, repeating unvaried the words ‘Je t’aime’ at the start of each stanza, but she created an air of superficial contentment. Both Clair de lune and Mandoline are settings of good poems in some of Fauré’s loveliest music, and Megan explored their individual character most affectingly, leaving a convincing impression of a singer with the secrets of the French mélodie in her soul.

Craig’s last songs were Le secret (about which he told an anecdote: Fauré who was never a confident composer, had played it to Duparc who exclaimed: ‘Bête sauvage’ which reassured Fauré that he’d been successful); and En sourdine, also by Verlaine. Over an accompaniment of broken arpeggios, it refers to a muted stringed instrument, though it’s a song of wide-ranging character that would hardly call for a mute if played on a violin, and was a fine way to confirm Beardsworth’s accomplishments as a sensitive singer of French mélodies.

The whole programme was very well conceived and, given the outdoor attractions of nice weather, well received by a quite large audience.