Es liebt sich so lieblich im Lenze!, Op71/1; Sommerabend, Op.85/1; Mondenschein, Op.85/2; Meerfahrt, Op.96/4
Seven Early Songs
Italienisches Liederbuch [selection]
Malin Christensson (soprano), Henk Neven (baritone) & Hans Eijsackers (piano)
Cadogan Hall, London
Monday, August 02, 2010
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The third in the Proms Chamber Music series introduced two of the BBC’s New Generation Artists – always a guarantee that you’re going to hear some potentially great musicianship – together with a Proms debutant accompanist, and in him we heard the playing of an already-mature artist. An incidental pleasure of this series is the introduction and commentary by Catherine Bott, a real singer – gasp! – as opposed to yet another chunk of supposedly middle-aged totty or, worse, a gushing ‘deejay’ who somehow can’t bring herself to pronounce Wolf correctly. Bott’s inviting, approachable yet deeply knowledgeable style was an absolute joy.
This was a very ambitious programme for singers at this stage of their careers – indeed it would be for anyone, so it was hardly surprising that we heard mostly potential rather than developed interpretation. Henk Neven graduated in 2002, and his youth and directness of approach lent a new freshness to Brahms’s Heine settings. ‘Es liebt sich so lieblich im Lenze!’ found him a little stiff both in demeanour and diction, but ‘Sommerabend’ revealed the makings of a lovely soft legato line, and ‘Mondenschein’ showed reserves of power as well as delicacy.
Malin Christensson took on an even more daunting task with Alban Berg’s “Seven Early Songs”, which were nevertheless very well suited to her quite steely tone. She is a very confident singer, and her assurance paid off in ‘Die Nachtigall’ where the repeat of “Die Rosen aufgesprungen” revealed the expressive artist which she will surely become. She presented characterful vignettes in the “Italienisches Liederbuch” (Italian Songbook), succeeding in getting laughter from the audience in ‘Hoffärtig seid ihr’ and ‘Nein, junger Herr’, although there were times when I would have liked more warmth in the tone.
Neven’s emergent sense of line came to the fore in ‘Gesegnet sie’ where the final phrase was beautifully coloured, and both singers seemed to grow in confidence as the selection from this cycle progressed. They were helped to do so by the wonderfully collaborative Hans Eijsackers, whose playing of the postludes in both ‘Wer rief ich denn?’ and ‘Schon streckt’ ich aus’ was an object-lesson in eloquence and musicality. At encore time, he threw out the terrifying coda to ‘Ich hab’ in Penna’ with the kind of panache which makes you want to stand up and cheer. No one did, but the audience response to this recital was appropriately warm, reflecting the promise of what is to come from these exciting young artists.