There are song recitals and then there are great song recitals. Sarah Connolly’s final programme in her Wigmore Hall residency, with Malcolm Martineau, exploded into life with a selection of Brahms Lieder exposing the most intimate and humane aspects of the composer’s musical personality. Connolly’s warmth of tone and dramatic gifts conveyed the emotional dynamics of love lost, in transcendental stasis. Each lyric opened a window on a profound feeling, Martineau expertly and exquisitely balancing Connolly’s expressive range with delicate flourishes and understated support. Mahler’s Kindertotenlieder followed, balancing despair with the Light, beautifully crafted by singer and pianist. The lyrical and spiritual aspects of these Rückert settings were captured fully, Connolly’s communicative power truly masterful.
Hugo Wolf’s songs contain a world of emotions, distilled through the prism of some of the greatest German Romantic poetry. Connolly’s selection was faultless, and singer and pianist thrilled us to the bones, including a devastating account of Goethe’s Kennst du das Land. The final group was English. Two sensual settings by Frank Bridge, followed by Herbert Howells’s magnificent King David; words cannot do justice to these artists’ nuanced, expansive and entirely committed musicianship. There was an encore, Ivor Gurney’s Desire in Spring, an evocation of the love of Nature. Connolly conveyed humanity through her musicianship. She was also wearing it. Her beautiful spun-silk gossamer dress was woven through with the Tilbury text from Elizabeth I at the time of the Armada: “My loving people”. Sarah Connolly is the undisputed Monarch of Song.