Det far ett skepp, Op.26/5
Jungfru Blond och jungfru Brunett, Op.26/4
Sånger och visor I skogen
Demanten på marssnön, Op.36/6
Säv, säv, susa!, Op.36/4
Flickan kom ifrån sin älsklings, Op.37/5
Svarta rosor, Op.36/1
Med en vandlilje, Op.25/4
En svane, Op.25/2
Peer Gynt Solveigs Song
En Drøm, Op.48/6
An Silvia, D891
Im Frühling D882
Gretchen am Spinnrade, D118
Du meines Herzens Krönelein, Op.21/2
Das Rosenband, Op.36/1
Camilla Tilling (soprano) & Julius Drake (piano)
Reviewed by: David M. Rice
Reviewed: 12 May, 2006
Venue: Weill Recital Hall, Carnegie Hall, New York City
Tilling opened her recital with four songs by the early twentieth-century Swedish composer, Wilhelm Stenhammar. This group began with ‘Vandraren’ (The Wanderer), in which she painted a picture of natural beauty, singing clearly and softening delicately as she sang of a gentle silver wave, echoed in Drake’s accompaniment, and concluded with the lyrical ‘I skogen’ (In the Forest), dating from the composer’s student days. Between these were two songs to texts by Bo Bergmann. In ‘Det far ett skepp’ (A Ship Sails) Tilling effectively communicated the song’s humorous warning to sailors to be wary of women, and in ‘Jungfru Blond och jungfru Brunett’ (Miss Blond and Miss Brunette) she sang of two young maidens who danced in the light autumn air until their fears of night’s darkness and winter’s winds sent them dashing to the seeming safety and comfort of their mother’s home and hearth. The song’s frequent shifts of mood and pace are reflected in both the vocal and piano lines, rising to near-operatic proportions at the height of the maidens’ terror, and falling to a terrifying whisper at the song’s end as the darkness itself asserts its ultimate power over them. Tilling and Drake gave a gripping account of this chilling narrative.
The four well-known songs by Jean Sibelius that followed are all settings of Swedish-language texts, beginning with a warm rendering of ‘Demanten på marssnön’ (The Diamond on the March Snow). In ‘Säv, säv, susa!’ (Reed, Reed, Rustle), Tilling was perhaps a bit too shrill in the dramatic outburst that follows the song’s lyrical beginning and narrative continuation, but touchingly conveyed its sorrowful conclusion over the piano’s arpeggios. In the ballad ‘Flickan kom ifrån sin älsklings möte’ (The Girl Returned from Meeting Her Lover) Tilling darkened the mood as the girl’s emotions turned from ardor to despair at her unfaithful lover’s betrayal. The Sibelius grouping concluded with a dramatic performance of ‘Svarta rosor’ (Black Roses), its forceful ending showing off Tilling’s vocal power.
Three Edvard Grieg settings of texts by Henrik Ibsen were next on the programme. In ‘Med en vandlilje’ (With a Water Lily), Tilling kept the lively music flowing as relentlessly as the currents of the stream of which she was singing, and in ‘En svane’ (A Swan) her floating vocal line aptly represented the swan’s gliding movement. The highlight of the group was ‘Solveig’s Song’; its mood was beautifully established by Drake’s piano prelude – which returned as its postlude – and Tilling touchingly rendered Solveig’s declaration of faithfulness to the absent Peer Gynt, her voice soaring in the vocalise that represents her spinning as she awaits his return. ‘En Drøm’ (The Dream), set by Grieg to an anonymous text, brought the first half of the recital to a dramatic conclusion.
Following the interval were four Schubert songs, beginning with a delightful ‘An Silvia’ (To Sylvia) in which Tilling subtly changed the colouration of each stanza, and Drake’s accompaniment was perfect. In ‘Im Frühling’ (In the Springtime), Tilling portrayed the poet’s melancholic recollection of the joys of springtime, with Schubert’s music capturing both the warmth of nature’s beauty and the pain of lost love. ‘Ganymed’ (Ganymede), set to a Goethe text, takes a less genial approach, apostrophising Spring in ardent tones. Tilling built up to an impassioned climax, and with a Beethovenesque accompaniment, and then brought the song to a peaceful conclusion, with Drake knowing precisely when to release the postlude’s final note. ‘Gretchen am Spinnrade’ (Gretchen at the Spinning-wheel), with text from Goethe’s “Faust”, concluded this group in highly dramatic fashion, with Tilling expressing Gretchen’s passion as Drake portrayed the clattering spinning-wheel.
Tilling concluded her recital with a group of six songs by Richard Strauss. In ‘Befreit’ (Relieved) she captured the irony of the equation of grief and happiness, sustaining the final, dying note on “Glück” (happiness) with Drake similarly sustaining the final note of the postlude. Tilling sang sweetly in ‘Du meines Herzens Krönelein’ (You, My Heart’s Crown) and with even more sweeping beauty in ‘Das Rosenband’ (The Rosy Ribbon). ‘Einerlei’ (Singular One) featured Drake’s stylish playing of the prelude and postlude, and although Tilling began a bit overdramatically, she ended the song in lovely fashion. In ‘Muttertändelei’ (Mother Talk), Tilling provided a suitably amusing interlude before ending her recital with a stirring rendition of ‘Cäcilie’ (Cecily), in which her voice was demonstrably well suited to the song’s operatic scale and pyrotechnics.
Tilling performed two encores, ‘Schlechtes Wetter’ (Terrible Weather), Op.69/5, by Strauss, and ‘Jeg elsker Dig’ (I Love You), Op.5/3, Grieg’s setting of a Danish text by Hans Christian Andersen.
In all, this was an outstanding debut recital, demonstrating Tilling’s idiomatic grasp of both Scandinavian song and German lieder. Her voice was unfailingly beautiful, with power to spare. (Indeed, she might have been well advised to spare a bit more of it in this rather small concert hall.) Julius Drake was, as ever, an ideal partner.