Brighton Fringe 2019
Mehreen Shah and composer Tim Nail returned to give a soprano and piano Recital at St Nicholas. The repertoire was Handel, Mahler, Beethoven, Debussy, Liszt, Bellini, the Wright-Forest Kismet from Borodin, and Scanlan/Tesoni.
Rising star Mehreen Shah and acclaimed composer Tim Nail returned to give a soprano and piano Recital at St Nicholas.
Shah’s soprano range is pretty phenomenal. she take sin pieces designed for mezzos yet shows an effortless lyric soprano sarong into stratospheric doted rhythms, that mesmerising pointillistic moment from the Queen fo the Night, part of a song we’ll come to. She certainly owns a dramatic soprano range – she’s often t be hard in opera. And she’s certainly got humour, a coloratura range with laughing and sometimes tragic inflections.
In her Favourites and Discoveries programmes we get Handel, Mahler, Beethoven, Debussy, Liszt, Bellini, the Wright-Forest Kismet borrowing of Borodin, and the Scanlan/Tesoni where that touch of the night comes in.
Handel’s Theodora has had a great revival lately, since the Millenium, discovered to be a great late oratorio. It’s pretty gloomy, ending unusually tragically. ‘Never be a pioneer,’ Saki once wrote, ‘it’s the early Christian gets the hungriest lion.’ ‘Oh That I On Wings Could Rise’ is an exalted moment for the eponymous Theodora and Shah gives it a beautifully etched lyric soar into the acoustics of the church. It rather belongs here.
Similarly in more knowing vein, Mahler’s Fruhlingsmorgen, also wide-eyed but a little less exalted, allows Shah to capture the tang and even rasp of Mahler’s early lyricism, with trillings and much else delicately suggesting birdsong and a sudden resolve in the singer moving into landler rhythm with a delicate fade.
Beethoven’s Ah! Perfido Op 65 is a whole operatic scena on its own, which Shah relishes. Faithlessness, or being dumped is detonated. Nail moves from his filigree sympathy to big-boned intros and dramatic interjections as the heroine pours out her mix of fury and tenderness at being abandoned. This allows Shah her full operatic range: if she was simply a dramatic soprano it’d lie precisely in her comfort zone. But there seems nowhere Shah can’t go. We’re treated to a thrilling performance of vivid indignation, tender switchbacks and final plunging despair swooping down and up, never scooping notes.
Debussy’s early ‘Beau Soir’ comes as crystalline balm after this strong-thewed storminess. It’s a Massenet-inflected unusual piece, not with even those long lyrical lines like Chausson that usher in Debussy’s great lyricism. But then he was 18. It’s still a beautifully accomplished song, full of a kind of imminence, of burgeoning.
Liszt’s ‘Enfant, si j’etais roi’ is one of those delicate love poems rather like Yeats wishing for the Cloths of Heaven. It’s a delicately shaded chromatic work but with again gestures to a spring-like ardour, the innocence of hyperbole, gifting a beloved a whole world. Shah really conjures with Nail a different sound world I’d like to hear more of. Liszt wrote some memorable songs – Jessye Norman memorably recorded an award-winning record of them. It’s worth remembering how fine, how exploratory they are. And of course the piano part, though discreet is a fascinating in Nail’s sovereign hands.
Bellini’s’ Casta’ Diva from Bellini’s Norma is the archetypal lament for how things used to be and how the eponymous heroine would like to return there. Again shah shades this then lets it soar quite spectacularly.
Borrowed from Borodin – that’s how Wright and Forrest shrugged off their confection of Kismet, the piece here originating as the slow movement from his String Quartet No. 2 in D. Christened ‘And This Is My Beloved’ it beautifully shamelessly fits of course and Shah rightly sings it not shamelessly kitsch, but with an ardent purity that’s utterly winning.
And finally ‘The Girl in 14G’ which sounds like school. It isn’t but it is a singing school for someone who really doesn’t want to be there. Scanlan and Tesori’s witty soufflé of the song-tortured tenant living next door to a soprano practising everything from ‘Queen of the Night’ to Tchaikowsky. It’s a swooping showstopper, hilariously paused, hilariously stratospheric as Shah really nails that dotted set of crotchets in ‘Queen of the Night’. Shah’s wit, sense of fun and sheer vocal agility here take her recital to another level: virtuosity that for once can celebrate itself. So can Nail with a flourish.
Shah’s such a versatile but characterful musician that any direction or all at once can be expected of her, just as she already makes her impact in opera and recitals in London and the south. Nail’s consummate as you’d expect. Terrific impact, and like Nail a complete musician.