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FringeReview UK 2018

Tamzin Barnett and Nancy Cooley Soprano and Piano Recital

Tamzin Barnett and Nancy Cooley

Genre: Live Music, Music

Venue: Chapel Royal, North Road, Brighton


Low Down

Soprano Tamzin Barnett and pianist Nancy Cooley give a recital – at Chapel Royal, North Road, Brighton – of Handel, Mozart, Schubert Wolf, Ravel’s Schéhérazade, Quilter, Bridge and Valverde.


Tamzin Barnett’s still a graduate student, but already a soprano with a formidable technique, real presence and acting skills that make this debut a delight. Ably supported by Nancy Cooley’s piano, which played a starring role in the Ravel, Barnett provided a tipartite recital, German, French, with a little British and a Spanish firecracker to end.


Handel’s Acis and Galatea, two lovers overshadowed by a lusting giant, brought forth ‘As when the dove’ a lamenting denial of Galatea as she mourns the crushed Acis. Barnett knows what she’s about and this soaring containment in repertoire now rare (it tends to get pushed to early music) seems fresher here.


It was the Mozart that showed Barnett could act. It’s Zerlina’s ‘Batti batti’ pleading with her fiancé to ebat her if he wants, only forgive her for being nearly seduced by Don Giovanni. Despite this rather dodgy plea, Barnett acted this with an attack and physicality the Handel didn’t prepare us for. This was first class story-telling with expressive but never over-used arms and voice.


Schubert’s ‘Die Forelle’ – The Trout – went along attractively with Barnett’s pure vibrato-less voice, Cooley enjoying the rippling effects with an aquatic friskiness. It was followed by something les ubiquitous, Hugo Wolf’s tale of a man seeing his young wife flirting with a much older judge, whilst pretending to sleep. This is from Wolf’s Spanish Songbook of 1892, ‘In dem schatten meiner locken’ which Shakespeare might almost have translated: ‘when most I wink, then do mine eyes best see’. Barnett gets the dark paly of this, and manages to lighten some of the chromatic post-Wagnerisms too. It’s one I wanted to hear again.


The central exalted work was Ravel’s Schéhérazade, his 1903 three-song panel of exalted longing and chiaroscuro of desire. They’re settings by the marvellously decadent Tristan Klingsor. Everything’s hot, sun-drenched landscapes with scantily clad people looking out of windows at other stripped people.


‘Asie’ is the longest with a fantastic swirl of a piano solo at the end – it’s overwhelming in the orchestral version. It’s all about wanting to see Asia and China in E flat minor, so remote in key too. But its longing is more powerful, and Barnett related it like a personal credo. She’s rapt and just as she masters German, masters French with an idiomatic tang she seems unequivocally at home with.

‘La flûte enchantée’ is utterly evocative and far more personal. A young slave girl or concubine tends her sleeping older master. she hears her lover playing a flute outside. Barnett’s hypnotically good here.

‘L’indifférent’ has a woman (it’s usually sung this way) look with longing on an androgynous youth ambling outside, and asking him in for wine, but he’s not interested. It’s briefer, in radiant E major but also shadowed by a muted frustration. Cooley’s accompaniment in these songs – dense with piano-laden ecstasy – is joyous and sustained.

Roger Quilter’s scented 1904 ‘Now sleeps the crimson petal’ also owns ambiguities – it’s a lovely Edwardian song, and Barnett’s at home in this British Renaissance too, with soaring lines and cosy harmonies – but a kick of individuality. The ambiguity lies in Quilter’s subversions of Tennyson’s own erotically ambiguous work from The Princess. It’s more layered than you’d think.

Frank Bridge’s ‘O that it were so’ is an early-middle song from 1912. By 1926 his Third String Quartet would be premiered alongside Berg’s Lyric Suite in Vienna. His development from Charles Stanford-schooled neat Edwardian to craggy but always melodically inspired modernist is one of the most astonishing and still little-known. His greatest compositions easily compare with Britten, whom he taught. This setting of the classical romantic Walter Savage Landor is before the storm, just after his The Sea and more rapt, but Bridge’s songs were still quite conservative by comparison. There’s a soaring top, a three-note descending languor in a kind of sad ecstasy. Barnett does dying falls well too, and clearly feels and affinity with the wonderful early renaissance of British art song.

And finally… as for an encore I didn’t know Valverde either, and his ‘Clavelitos’ is full of the clacking rhythms of a flower-girl selling her wares, which Barnett brings off with a cheerful if contained exuberance. At twenty-two, Barnett’s a remarkably versatile and mature artist with consummate acting skills and a secure soaring voice. Where most was asked for – in Ravel’s Schéhérazade – she was at her most thrilling. Watch out for her.