Tag Archives: Iain Burnside

An English journey / Frank Bridge songs recital / Wigmore Hall – 26 September 2012

27 Sep

This recital was my baptism of fire as far as the work of Frank Bridge is concerned. Iain Burnside has been championing him in the last few years and somehow had managed to miss attending any of them.

This recital with songs hand-picked by Burnside was a true indulgence and showed the two soloists in the best light. Their passion for the material was evident and it displayed a unique emotional arc from a frivolous and happy lost world before the first world war to the immense sadness soon after. Genteel romantic poetry contrasted with bleak, muscular prose relating to loss and warfare. This recital also included a song by his teacher (Stanford) and two by his most famous pupil (Britten). This historical revision of Bridge’s output is timely with the Britten centenary in 2013 and also because it brings a large swathe of English art songs to a much wider audience. The Wigmore Hall has to be congratulated for its current Bridge series which is both an education for all of us and great nights out.

The two hurt, ghoulish songs by Britten were the most poignant and heart stopping performances of the evening. Tynan offered her voluptuous voice unconditionally to the composer’s trademark biting setting of the text. For the a capella beginning of The trees they grow so high she shared the piano stool with Burnside. It was serene and eased us all in a world of loss and inevitability. The disarming confidence the song was delivered with was absolutely stunning. Despite Tynan’s sparkling stage presence she can deliver pain and suffering with as much ease as she can radiate happiness and bounce. The final lines of this Somerset folk song concludes  in a repetitive woven together growing, growing which was spellbinding. ‘Tis the last rose of summer was equally gorgeous and she delivered some very high lying passages in the second and third verse with stunning clarity.

Her delivery of  Stanford’s La belle dame sans merci was beautifully evocative with lively narration setting the woodland scene. It culminated in an intense nightmarish vision that she expressed in a paroxysm, fitting a romantic poem by Keats. Bridge it seems was not a stranger to high campery as So early in the morning proves, peppered with chromatic bird and water effects concluding what was a mini operetta based on a poem that tellingly came from a collection titled ‘Adventures of Seumas Beg and the rocky road to Dublin’ published in 1915.

One of the most gorgeously simple pieces by Bridge was The violets blue that Tynan sang with a melancholic resignation that was beautifully touching.

Robert Murray’s voice is a text book English tenor sound with a very sophisticated edge (I admired his contribution at a recent Gerontius when he stepped in for an indisposed singer). His I hear the dear song sounding was like a miniature Winterreise, pain and longing encapsulated in four minutes with youthful ardour . He managed a very soft and sensitive middle voice  for Where she lies asleep which was dreamy and beguiling. When singing the more bravado laden songs in the second half he displayed a much more dark temperament and sense of gravitas. The dead/Blow out you bugles was proclamatory and sang against a heavy piano accompaniment creating battle sounds and noble military sacrifice.

As you can tell it was a wonderful evening that makes me looking forward to another Bridge evening next month. Who said art song has to be German to be moving, deep and entertaining?

Some tweets from the evening

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The girl is fierce / Rosenblatt Recital series: Ailyn Pérez / St John’s Smith Square – 7 March 2012

10 Mar

This was the first time I had the chance to listen to Ailyn Pérez live and it was again another happy coincidence for Londoners to see her in concert, as an indisposed Giuseppe Filianoti meant that she accepted to cover for him at this occasion, as it was it was stated from the stage, it was disappointing not to have Filianoti, but that feeling did not last too long when Pérez accepted in a matter of minutes. As she jubilantly expressed on stage, this was her third time performing for the Rosenblatt recital series and was obviously excited.

Her opening Hahn songs did not quite reach the rounded beauty those songs attain when sang by Veronique Gens but that has to do more with Pérez’s burnished timbre and much more explosive stage presence. These songs require a radiance and warmth that in my view are too restrictive for her beautiful lyrical instrument. Her voice is as expressive as her dress sense for this recital, a beautiful red dress that looked very demure till one noticed the gold detailing on the plunging bare back and side slash, revealing much more leg that I am accustomed to on recital stages. Overall she exuded beauty and charm in equal measure.

When she moved on to the Spanish section of the programme (she did let us know she had just returned from Seville and felt more in tune with the material) she took flight, the delivery was ardent without sacrificing the smooth delivery. Her Luna song was fiery and embodied the heroine who declares her pride to be Spanish finishing off the song with her shoulders dancing to the rhythm of this 1918 piece of Hispanic exotica. The De Falla songs were delivered with panache, deep understanding, sense of fun and anguish in appropriate measures. A good example what a great singer can bring to more prosaic material was her El paño moruno/The Moorish cloth which was delivered with sweet anguish and longing. Adding a layer of interpretation to a few lines of very unambitious poetry. In the hands of a less gifted singer this would turn into a farce all too easily, it is those small exceptional touches that show true class. The gorgeous lyricism of Asturiana was a marvel, softness and depth of feeling alongside Iain Burnside’s exemplary, pared down playing was a moment of magic. In Nana she deployed her mezza voce with a bronze like quality caressing the long and winding melody of this lullaby transporting us to a private world of devotion and love. The last two songs were much more fiery affairs that brought instant release and a fitting close to the first half.

What followed after the interval was even more exciting. The two Manon arias and Desdemona’s Willow song scene were as close to my idea of perfection as possible.

Her Manon was so vividly acted, all the little laughs and sideways glances added to the naiveté of the character which was galloping through Massenet’s smooth melodic line with such vibrancy and gusto. It was simply so fantastic that I can’t imagine what’s holding the Royal Opera from booking her as their next Manon. She had all the spark of Beverly Sills with the glowing ample tone of Victoria de los Angeles, paired with engaging acting ability. It is hard to imagine anyone in the audience not being moved by her Adieu, it was so genuinely heartfelt she obviously welled up in the conclusion. She more than brought the house down after this triumphant portrayal.

Her Amelia Boccanegra was equally vivid with liquid tone and sharp upper register. This aria is a true workhorse for any lyric soprano, which can make it a bit of a chore to listen through from a lot of lesser singers. She made it work beautifully but we all anticipated her Desdemona which was the juiciest part of this recital.


This scena is one of my most favourite arias in the history of opera, a still lament where it really displays a singer’s understanding of Verdian style and also an unforgiving display of coloratura, use of shading and shifts in dynamics. Her depiction was truly amazing. A transporting, transcendent experience. Every turn of the Willow song was thoughtful and dramatic, a display of acting skill and warm all enveloping sound. The concluding Ave Maria was smooth and her sound grew and hugged every word, the final phrase closing the aria as a mere whisper. She is set to perform the role on stage in Houston and I can only hope it will be webcast or committed to a disc format as an important document of this truly exceptional young singer.

The move to the Puccini section was with a lovely rendition of the aria from La Villi, which was perfectly lovely and followed on by a devastatingly strong Liu which gave us an insight how she will perform the role in her upcoming appearances at the Royal Opera. It was a potent mix of crisp delivery with a simmering undercurrent of anger and devotion. It was complex and rounded definitely spine tingling. She concluded the recital not with the scheduled Butterfly aria (she did explain that was due to the effects of her plane journey. After such a demanding programme we really had no right to complain) but with Donde lieta usci which was lustrous and bright displaying her crisp diction and direct, full-throated delivery.
If you’ve made it this far, you will know what an extraordinary evening this was, the enthusiastic, grateful reception by the audience verging on adulation was more than justified. I am looking forward to seeing her as many times as possible in the future and dear readers if she is performing nearby (she has a debut appearance at The Met coming up) go and see her. A huge star in the making is amongst us.

Ciciban meets Suor Angelica / Rosenblatt Recital, Sabina Cvilak + Iain Burnside / St John’s Smith Square – 7 December 2011

9 Dec

Another recital at St John Smith Square, another time I adored the architecture but still found the venue to lack in atmosphere. Something about the stark crisp whiteness and the very dry acoustic somehow is not giving me a warm fuzzy feeling. Cvilak thankfully had no issues filling the space with her beautiful and clearly projected voice.

She is a really interesting case, a singer with a very lyrical voice but with an almost chilly timbre. On the surface she seems to lack inbuilt warmth but she clearly knows how to coax emotion when the repertoire calls for it. Saw her take part in a wonderful performance with the London Symphony Orchestra under Gianandrea Noseda of Britten’s War Requiem and she was very expressive then but maybe mismatched to the demands of the piece …but still, a mile away from her tours around the world accompanying Andrea Bocelli.

The recital started with an inversion of the advertised running order of the three Slovenian songs. They were a very well chosen ice breaker and a characterful, whimsical choice too. Maybe I’m impressionable but, I’m always charmed when singers choose songs in their native tongue. Her approach was lyrical and very tender. Her unforced delivery was endearing and convincing. The two first songs were mournful and ever so slightly unhinged (the line :’ My father cursed and beat me, mother is crying over me, my family is ashamed of me, all fingers are pointing at me.‘ comes to mind). For me Ciciban was a great end to this section, a tender telling of the story of a little boy that gets approached by a bird that reminds him to wash his hands…never before I had a pedagogic lesson on hygiene for the under 5s, delivered with such sense of fun and panache from a concert platform, Julie Andrews would be very proud!

The next group of songs by Hauer based on poetry by Hölderlin, they were beautifully delivered and with impressionistic pianistic touches by Iain Burnside. But the best was still to come. The three Richard Strauss songs were a torrent or changing emotions, from hushed loving words to proclamatory fervour to the dreamy evocation of a ghostly lover. Again Burnside seemed to be in his element accompanying with great taste and allowing Cvilak to float phrases, creating the right atmosphere for these youthful efforts of the lovestruck young Richard. Those songs led to the interval leaving us all looking forward to the arias in the second half.

Somehow to sing at least one aria from La Bohème is something any lyric soprano tends to have a go in recital. Cvilak’s effort may have been short on actual vocal softness but the aria was infused with true understanding of the style, clear enunciation and a charming stage persona. The audience surely reacted to her interpretation and gave her one of the loudest applauses of the evening. Next up was Suor Angelica’s big aria, which I saw in the recent Covent Garden Il Trittico sang by Ermonella Jaho, who brought the house down with a searing interpretation that was immensely moving. Cvilak’s instrument is much cooler in temperament but still somehow managed to negotiate the aria without allowing it to turn twee and a routine effort. My only criticism would be her inadequate use of portamento to colour further the aria and give it a more touching effect.

The final Viennese operetta section was a delight, and actually a great fit for a mid week recital. It made us tap our toes and have fun with the happenings on stage. In particular the second aria (Du sollst der Keiser meiner Seele Sein) on top of all the fun, it also gave us the chance to hear a much deeper colour of her voice, as she used much her darker end of her tone to great effect. Which made me wish she had done the same with Suor Angelica, but maybe the temptation of a nun in white was too much to resist. Of course closing the programme with the Merry Widow was a total crowd pleaser and she really gave her all, fleshing out the character with nonchalance and sexiness with wonderfully clear, ringing high notes.

We were treated to two encores, both a logical step from the Puccini arias on the programme, her Io son l’umile ancella was passionate and at the same time desperate and resigned. A wonderful showy aria that any lyric soprano with a taste for verismo can create a huge impression, Cvilak did make a big splash again, staying on track with the required style and not resorting to the quite standard maudlin treatment. Her ‘Room with a view’ moment was surely full of freshness the aria requires but somehow did not have enough of a pleading quality. On Wednesday night she was lucky enough to have an accompanist of immense sensitivity and dexterity and also a well chosen, varied, entertaining repertoire. Can’t imagine a single person in the audience didn’t enjoy the recital. Looking forward to hopefully seeing her in fully staged opera in the coming years and what other roles she will tackle.

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