If Ashley Riches’s and Joseph Middleton’s recital was rather more lightweight than some of the Wigmore Hall Monday lunchtime series, you might not have guessed it from the opening Schubert Lieder, mellifluous and bountiful. Things got steadily droller as the programme – consisting of songs about animals – proceeded and culminating in an entertaining account of Vernon Duke’s Ogden Nash’s Musical Zoo.
Duke, a Russian-American composer for the stage as well as the concert hall, penned these almost epigrammatic squibs in the mid-1940s, employing texts from the then hugely popular humorist Nash, each of the twenty vignettes portray an animal: seagull, frog, rooster, dog... nicely contrasted in mood, and occasionally aspiring to a little bit more than throwaway jokes. Riches delivered with just the right air of nonchalant semi-seriousness, and his stage-American accent matched Nash’s (and Duke’s) wisecracking tone perfectly.
Earlier, the highlight was Histoires naturelles: unmistakably Ravel, often passionate and atmospheric, with the agile Middleton playing an equal part in the zoological portrayals. Between Schubert and Ravel we heard an urbane butterfly from Fauré and a surprisingly muscular ladybird from Saint-Saëns, comparatively serious stuff, at least alongside the Duke or the encore (Aaron Copland’s delightful ‘I Bought Me a Cat’, for which the American accent remained in place) – part of non-stop diversion, a tour of highly descriptive and often humorous repertoire supported by great musicality.
- Broadcast live on BBC Radio 3 (available on BBC iPlayer for thirty days afterwards)
- Wigmore Hall www.wigmore-hall.org.uk