FringeReview UK 2018
Soprano Olive Murray and pianist Christopher Foreman gave a summer-themed recital at All Saints September 6th 2018, with music from 16 composers from G&S and Julia Slade through Poulenc and Gershwin, Quilter Howells and Dove through darker material by Brahms, Chausson and Finzi.
It’s rare to see such a well-planned and intelligent recital, with not only programme notes but a list to guide thrugh this recital given by soprano Olive Murray and pianist Christopher Foreman.
Though it’s summer’s end, almost, they gave a summer-themed recital at All Saints September 6th 2018, with music from 16 composers from G&S and Julia Slade through Poulenc and Gershwin, Quilter Howells and Dove through darker material by Brahms, Chausson and Finzi. Murray’s an experience soprano with a strong mezzo range to and a wondrously flaotng top-note best heard perhaps in Summertime’, which seems apposite.
It’s the sheer scope of their musical trawl and the way it m both thematically and with Murray’s voice that so impresses. Foreman’s a remarkable accompanist, and sometime soloist, famous amongst some for his scholarship on the undervalued wunderkind Benjamin Dale (1885-1943) whose Piano Sonata he plays – ‘a youthful one-off throw of genius’ (Lewis Foreman, no relation) though now we know there’s far more.
First was Herbert Howells’ ‘On the merry First of May’ as prelude (from his In Green Ways cycle), a lighter than expected song from Howells, best known for plangent choral masterpieces such as Hymnus Paradisi, his great song ‘King David’ and orchestral and chamber music restored to the canon. This is an attractive piece though, just fretted with darkness like a rustle of shadow, but a typically folksy-revival song following more tenebrous pieces in the cycle.
Poulenc’s ‘Les Chemins de L’Amour’ allows his bittersweet lyricism full rein and we get here the shift between British modal senses and the slant acidity in French lyricism; always clearer, a little more acidic and knowing, less wondering.
Berloz’s ‘Villanelle’ is a wonderfully exultant pattering, still Berlioz’s best known song and best-known in its orchestral guise. Here Murray allows her voice to luxuriate in the less dense pianistic net, but it’s still incredible mobile, restless, like a scherzo.
Bizet’s ‘Ouvre ton Coeur’ is more plangent and redolent of Carmen, full of Spanish inflection, its habanera insistently Spanish in some ways than the opera, its la-la-la stance a real (here triumphant) test of vocal stamina.
Julian Slade’s 1954 musical Salad Days happens to be playing at the Theatre Royal Brighton, and it was startling to come from reviewing that to finding his evergreen ‘I Sit in the Sun’ featured here, and sung (by heroine Jane, here Murray) with more wonder and intensity too. It’s rise an falling rom ‘sit’ with innocence and complacency poised and innocence winning, is one of the sweetest-natured works of music theatre ever, as several claim. I agree, having just discovered it! You’d never believe this musical moves to magical vanishing pianos that make everyone dance and a flying saucer…. A wonderfully winning response to the lyrics too.
Chausson happens to be Compsoer of the Wek on Radio 3, and his songs, not always explored as they might be (unless orchestral) prove thewy, dark works miles fro Bizet, though Chausson was as frequently inspired; but as with this song ‘Le Colibri’ meditating on birds and freedom, not his greatest, it’s a shadowy world, not quite typically French, until you recall Duparc and Fauré – and Debussy’s songs. It gets a finsly shaded reading here, and it’d be good to hear a recital of French chanson, such a we rarely get, and much more of Chausson.
Dvorak’s Rusalk and its Song to the Moon gets rapt attention, and G&S’s Mikado set-piece ‘The sun who rays are all ablaze’ remind us that Jane and Yum-Yum are distantly related, though the accent’s on a lingering at each line-end, the quite complex feminine end-rhymes a feature of mild melancholy.
Gerad Finzi’s ‘It enver looks lik summer’ from his cycle Till Earth Outwears is so brief in its laconic Hardyesque setting that we’ve little tie to adjust to Finzi’s marvellous sound-world, but it’s a tiny glinting gem in the dark. Genuine as opposed to mock melancholy, but leading into purely-distilled joy, from Haydn’s The Seasons ‘Oh how Pleasing’ which cleanses the palate and allows Murray to break through the pervious clouded middle range and reach for top notes from the sun again.
And that allows the absolute summit of Summertine, where from the active vocal classical of Haydn Gershwin combines rare raptness: there’s shadows here too in the song, in this still turning point of summer and exposed bluesy pitching to the top – Murray exalts particularly in this, floating in the large church acoustic like summer motes.
Back to weather with Brahms’ ‘In Summer Fields’ which is laconic too, ants, love and a wry sense of life. Like the Chausson and Finzi, it’s a song worth re-hearing, which doesn’t yield its secret easily (not many of Brahms or Chausson do, and only some of Finzi’s). Again too it’s lower range and I love this shuttling of pitch and exploration.
Roger Quilter’s Tennyson setting ‘Now sleeps the crimson petal’ is more like a salon than art song, and Quilter enjoyed both. THer’esa memorable gossamer piano melody too. Quilter’s subtle and resolutely minor, but those who know British art song – and many singers – will always value his clutch of quiet, tiny miracles. Contralto Kathleen Ferrier and soprano Felicity Lott make very different things of this song, and Murray of course is a soprano, but she hints at some of the plusher tonalities too.
Rachmaninov’s ‘These summer nights’ Op 14/5 (so early, about 1897 when he was 24 ) is quite well-known, but not very – few of Rachmaninov’s 70 songs are. It’s strong, floatingly gloomy, and wit a strong piano part lowering almost overhead with a heltering, plangent sweep like one of his torrents in his ‘Spring Waters’, but Murray nailing above it with a superb declamatory conclusion – even if the piano rushes off an answer.
Jonathan Dove’s ‘Tiara, tiara’ is a great comic piece with unusual pitching about like a piece of wonderfully-gone-wrong music theatre, or like the deranged elements in Gypsy. A young woman at the start now demands centre stage at the wedding suggests Murray’s notes. The playful text and diva-ish clowning is crowned with a literal tiara donned by Murray. great swooping send-off.
But not quite. We get an encore. And someone’s hauled up to be the father in Puccini’s 1918 comedy (yes!) Gianni Schicchi, from his otherwise sad triptych and the daughter’s plea to her father about letting her marry the man she wants (she gets him, unsurprisingly) in ‘O mio babbino caro’. Murray delivers this with a purity of warmth and tone to let any paterfamilias in the audience, and certainly the delighted, hapless man sitting patiently as she sung over him.
Murray’s is above all a lyrical intelligence and an very intelligent lyricism. With Foreman’s powers too, she brings a formidable but winning combination of learning and letting go, and a big-hearted response. A delighted, delightful recital, introducing an incredible array of songs not often sung, and really worth hearing again – and more too, from these two artists.