FringeReview UK 2019
Michele Roszak and Lynda Spinney have put together another adventurous programme for St Nicholas based around Filial Relationships. Dvorak, Brahms, Copland, Rodrigo, Traditional Irish and American, Fauré, Puccini, Gershwin, and Gurney were featured, with many unexpected songs.
A hugely welcome return for Michele Roszak and Lynda Spinney to St Nicholas was capped by an audience member going up and lauding the duo as two of the very best performers St Nicholas in its year-round concerts can boast.
That might sound divisive though this duo appear three times a year, and still come up with fresh, inventive programmes.
Roszak’s as ever a richly engaging singer pushing her range through the soprano register to a creamy top line. There were moments when I forgot she was a mezzo yet she possesses the chest register for that too. There’s a passion too for humour, storytelling, above all the ability to touch an audience into recognition. Spinney’s an ideal partner. Her pianism’s crisp, pointed, but delicate and never clanguorous except very rarely when required. She’s at home in the French Elysian piano here.
Filial Relationships were Roszak’s and Spinney’s focus today, nine items and an encore. So mother/child percolated from Dvorak in ‘Songs My Mother Taught Me’ a straightforward favourite, warm-hearted and with a folkish edge Dvorak always push beyond any cloying.
His friend Brahms’ heartfelt ‘O WuBt ich doch den Weg Zuruck’ is a harking-back, almost hopelessly to that state Dvorak celebrates from the point of view of an adult who can’t return there. Roszak’s diction and shading in this oblique, refractory song were exemplary, and most of all the envelope of her warm mezzo tone. Spinney makes fine clean work of very chromatic harmonies, an intricate counterpointing to the melodic density. Brahms – following Schubert’s late adventurousness – was far more progressive, as Schonberg always proved, than we allow. But it’s the regretful warmth, so achingly shaded by Roszak, that reveals Brahms.
Copland’s arrangements of ‘The Little Horses’ was like a sharp sorbet afterwards, its piquant and mid-century angularity not making too many demands, an American folk tradition asserting itself with haunting simplicity.
Rodrigo’s songs aren’t as well known as his guitar/orchestra and piano music. ‘De los Alamos Vengo, Madre’ is more consciously sophisticated in its recognizably Spanish inflections rendered charming, almost diminutive. It’s not an aspect of Spanish music we’re used to and it’d be worth hearing more – a typical Roszak/Spinney foray into the less well-trod.
‘Danny Boy’ always brings its lumps to throat. Ting pain and yet as the melody wraps backwards, enacting a kind of homecoming.
Fauré’s ‘Les Berceaux’ is like the Brahms darkly glinting, a refractive, beautifully elusive take on lullabies, on the hinterland of sleep. There’s none f the more gallant of Fauré’s early songs. Here’s the deeper and tentative onyx brilliance of his mature style; and winningly realised.
Puccini’s ‘O Mio Babbino Caro’ as Roszak reminds us with her habitual aplomb, is sung by the one really sympathetic character in Puccini’s comic 1918 Gianni Schicchi. The daughter pleads with the eponymous hero to marry the young man of her choice and of course gets him. Roszak’s soprano range was noticeable here: the creamy top-notes, the soaring appeal that inscribed the air.
Gershwin’s ‘Summertime’ is often an encore. Not here. It’s a perfect fit, a minor-keyed vow of protection till adulthood that’s shadows fear even as it affirms its famed melos and verses. Again Roszak soars stratospherically, fining out the lyric line to the church roof, and Spinney gently ripples below, evoking a liquid orchestral balance.
Ivor Gurney’s poetry hasn’t overshadowed his music, though ‘I Will Go with my Father A-Ploughing’ is a memorable, still too-little-known setting remarkable for bright folksiness kerned in only the smallest hint of British artsong: this is still fresh Gloucestershire. Though evoking folksong Gurney doesn’t quote it, but moulds round its tropes creating an elusive brilliance that for once banishes most of his incipient demons.
Another American folksong ‘He’s Coming Home’ returned us to the arrangements of Copland and others of his generation. Or rather the unadulterated originals that underpinned say Copland’s mid-period. This evoking a young woman, stilla girl, noting how her parents will protect her till her fiancé returns to claim her is uplifting and less tragic than so much Civil War music.
And for some of us, a reprise of the Brahms rounded out another distinctive recital that should surely secure Tunbridge Wells-based Roszak a reputation as one of the most versatile yet keenly adventurous singers around; and with Spinney a joy to hear. This duo really needs more exposure.