Alice Coote & Julius Drake

Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen
Nicht wiedersehen
Das irdische Leben
Serenade aus Don Juan
Frühlingsglaube, D686
Am Bach im Frühling, D361
Der Tod und das Mädchen, D531
Nacht und Träume, D827
Der Zwerg, D771
Die Sterne, D939
Im Abendrot, D799
Nähe des Geliebten, D162
Geheimes, D719
Rastlose Liebe, D138
Gretchen am Spinnrade, D118
Litanei auf das Fest Aller Seelen, D343
Wanderer’s Nachtlied II, D768

Alice Coote (mezzo-soprano) & Julius Drake (piano)

Reviewed by: John T. Hughes

Reviewed: 24 March, 2006
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London

“A gloomy programme” was how two people independently described Alice Coote’s recital. They were referring not to the singing and playing but to the content, for we had a dead child, sorrow, a knife in the breast and happiness that can never bloom, and that was just Mahler’s contribution. Schubert offered death and a maiden, heavy heartedness, peace departed and a queen murdered by a dwarf.

Do not think, though, that the performances were dull. Alice Coote has a way with sad songs. She does not over-emote but uses her voice and her art to convey the meaning. The final song of the Mahler cycle, ‘Die Zwei blauen Augen’, is one of those which tell of how the wayfarer copes on leaving his home, only to find solace in nature, which is more positive than the wish for death in the preceding song. In both of these, Coote held the audience with her quiet, resigned interpretation. The last note of ‘Die Zwei blauen Augen’ was so quiet that from my seat in the back row it was barely audible, but the singing of this item was mesmerising. Perhaps because of its richer, more colourful ingredients the cycle benefits from Mahler’s orchestration, but Julius Drake invested as much variety and drew as much from the piano harmonies as was possible.

The Schubert songs elicited even better performances from the mezzo, with the inward-looking selections finding her particularly responsive. “Der Tod und das Mädchen” benefited from the dark tones in her voice, as both it and the following “Nacht und Traume” did from her legato, smoother than in some of the Mahler pieces. If one cannot manage “Nacht und Traume”, a great song, on a smooth, flowing line, one should leave it alone. Coote can and did. That introspective mood is also encountered in another splendid song, the ‘Litany for All Souls’ Day’, in which singer and pianist must read lightly. Both artists gave another interpretation that I found compelling; a matter of less is more. How pleasant it is to hear a singer supporting her tone, unsullied by breathiness, in quiet songs.

For more extrovert settings, both Coote and Drake were not lacking in brighter colours, whether in the gruesome story of the dwarf who, because of his unrequited love for the young queen, strangles her (“Der Zwerg”). The pianist is faced with a complex part that builds dramatically, a part that Drake took in his stride, while Coote opened her tone and increased her volume, adding a more biting sound. “Rastlose Liebe”, an exuberant song, also provided an opportunity to unbutton and expand. It was, though, in the quieter songs that I found these artists at their most expressive and satisfying. As Alice Coote has recently become an EMI artist and Julius Drake has already accompanied her on that label, these Schubert Lieder would be welcome in a permanent form.

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