FringeReview UK 2019
St Nicholas, Belladonna, Sue Mileham Soprano, Jane Plessner Clarinet, Nicola Grunberg Piano, performed their Belladonna recital consisting of Thomas Arne, Giacomo Meyerbeer, Mozart arias and Debussy piano solos, two Arnold Cooke settings, the three John McCabe folk settings for Clarinet and Piano-accompaniment, Bernhard Crusell and Terence Greaves. March 20th 2019
This is a rare treat by three consummate musicians well-known in the area but hardly local. One – Nicola Grunberg – gave the British premiere with her late husband of Shostakovich’s final work, his Viola Sonata Op 147 in 1976.
Today’s it’s pastoral – shepherd settings without Schubert’s Shepherd on the Rocks or even Spohr’s settings. Again real adventure.
Sue Mileham soprano, Jane Plessner clarinet, with Nicola Grunberg piano, performed their Belladonna recital consisting of Thomas Arne, Giacomo Meyerbeer, Mozart arias and Debussy piano solos, two Arnold Cooke settings, the three John McCabe folk settings for Clarinet and Piano-accompaniment, Bernhard Crusell and Terence Greaves.
Mileham’s a wondrously personable and popular soprano, with theatrical aplomb and fearless coloratura. Grunberg amongst other things gave the UK premiere with her husband of Shostakovich’s last work, his Viola Sonata Op 147. We’ve been lucky to have a musician of Grunberg’s calibre: exalted musicianship, authority and variety. Plessner often works alongside her, known for her bright-toned slightly French sound (home of the clarinet), though it’s a British/German programme.
Arne’s ‘When daisies Pied’ is a delightfully fresh late baroque take in Arne’s post-Handelian vein: bright, sparky, dotted as a rare bird.
Arnold Cooke (1906-2005) was a gritty Hindemith pupil, like Walter Leigh a year his senior, killed at Tobruk in 1942. Cooke was luckier and wrote in his gnarled Yorkshire idiom like Arthur Butterworth (1923-2014) consistently to his death. He’s not known for songs. Nevertheless from Blake’s Three Songs of Innocence ‘Piping down the valleys wild’ and ‘The Shepherd’ are haunted wind-blown affairs, an off-key Yorkshire lyricism. The first song captures this sense with distant whooping clarinet, and the latter’s a finely etched song.
Meyerbeer’s known for his vast spectacular operas. His songs are a different matter as a Naxos CD of his songs has recently made clear. ‘Hirtenlied’ is a lovely thing, seemingly slim, active and elegaic. There’s a sweet core of lyricism in his songs.
Mileham has a strong dramatic delivery, particularly a comic one. She edges Mozart’s wild leaps and coloratura just beyond the polite in two pieces from The Marriage of Figaro: ‘E Susanna none vien…Dove sono’ from towards the end of Act Three as she plots with Susanna to change places and catch her husband the Count in the garden (cue Act Four). It sparkle with pertinent outrage and the heart-stopping possibility of things going wrong. There’s dispatch and point here too.
Debussy’s ‘The Little shepherd’ was an oasis of agogic hesitation and pointilistic calm. Grunberg’s poise allows a wonderful finish to bloom in this chapel acoustic.
Crusell’s known for his clarinet concertos and few other clarinet works. Here his song ‘From Ganges’ Beauteous strands’ is a voluptuously sexy little number on (as Mileham cheerfully confided) total sexist nonsense. Don’t trust sinewy girls, they charm and choose fickleness. It’s called sexual choice. Get over it. Luckily all we had to listen to was Mileham’s singing – with a terrific top finish here and alarming vocal power.
I’ve never heard of Terence Greaves, born 1933, but on the strength at least of two recitals Belladonna have championed him in, he really should be as well known as minor composers from a previous generation celebrated primarily for songs, like Michael Head.
‘Belladonna’ (1971) from which the whole recital takes its name, is another thing altogether. Jacqueline Froom’s poem explores the nature of this poisonous Deadly Nightshade. It’s a strange tenebrous poem given an equally taut setting with a fine diminuendo at the end. Really thrilling and worth hearing again in the same recital.
McCabe (1939-2015) was a marvellous composer: modernist but melodic, with striking compositions for the piano, piano concertos and voice and orchestra too (the stunning soprano-led Notturni ed Alba), as well as ballets like Edward II. These three Folksongs are bright, sharp-sided affairs with surprising subversions. ‘Johnny has gone for a soldier’ leads with a fine main melody and is straightforwardly perky. ‘Hush-a-bye Birdie’ is nuanced and elusive, worth encoring. ‘John Peel’ deploys a counter-melody to the famous tune – it’s ‘What shall we do to the drunken sailor’! Mileham celebrates the delicious clash and manages to convince us, for a moment, they belong together. Another distinguished recital.