SARAH CONNOLLY – mezzo-soprano and MALCOLM MARTINEAU – piano

Wednesday 17th April 2013

Schumann – 3 songs from ‘Myrthen’ op. 25
Schumann – Song Cycle ‘Frauenliebe und -leben’ op. 42
Fauré – Song cycle ‘Le Jardin Clos’ op. 106
Roussel – Four songs
Richard Rodney Bennett – ‘A history of the Thé Dansant’

Sarah Connolly has become one of the world's most sought after mezzos. As well as a busy international opera, concert and recital career, she has made many acclaimed recordings. One of the leading accompanists of his generation Malcolm Martineau has performed with many of the world's greatest singers, including Sir Thomas Allen and Bryn Terfel. In 1840, the year of his marriage to Clara, Schumann composed an astonishing 168 songs, including all the ones we will hear. The artists will then perform contrasting songs written in the decade of WW1 by Fauré and Roussel. Finally one of Britain's great film, jazz, concert and opera composers quirkily recalls the Tea-Room dances of the 1920s.


A Celebrity Recital Draws in the Crowds

Vocal recitals have often been the least well attended event in an Ilkley Concert Club season, but such is mezzo-soprano Sarah Connolly’s reputation that there was huge demand for tickets leaving no empty seats in the house. The cleverly structured programme was adventurous, well known Schumann lieder in the first half but less familiar French fare after the interval. There had been a last-minute change from what was advertised, with some brief vignettes by Poulenc and Honegger substituting for a rarely heard Fauré song cycle that made for a somewhat brief evening’s entertainment.

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The audience response was very positive, with prolonged applause and much cheering at the end, yet especially in the first half I felt out of step with this degree of enthusiasm. Hers is big voice used to projecting in major international concert halls and opera houses and in the Schumann songs there was a harshness in the tone that did not suit the music. Furthermore it was not always easy to hear the words.

Things improved in the second half because she had by then got the measure of the hall’s acoustic and sang with less effort. She seemed more at home in the French repertoire with its allusive and sometimes ironic style. The impressionist Roussel songs were imaginatively done and she showed a keen sense of humour in the Poulenc and Honegger items. Her love of jazz stood her in good stead for the concluding Richard Rodney Bennett mini-cycle which she performed stylishly.

Her accompanist was Martin Martineau and he was superb throughout the evening, responsive to every mood of the music and whilst far from self-effacing, he never upstaged his partner. His playing was always expressive, never more so than in the poignant ending of Schumann’s Frauenliebe und Leben. He was always ‘with’ his soloist and entered into the spirit of the lighter items gleefully. His spoken introduction about the substituted items was a model of wit and concision; a major contribution to the evening.

Geoffrey Kinder

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