4 Vedic Hymns [from Op.24] – Ushas; Maruts; Song of the Frogs; Faith
2 Humbert Wolfe Songs [from Op.48] – The Floral Bandit; Betelgeuse
5 Lieder, Op.15 – Madrigal; Winternacht; Lob des Leidens; Aus den Liedern der Trauer; Heimkehr
2 Lieder from Acht Gedichte, Op.10 – Allerseelen; Zueignung
Songs of the Clown, Op.29
3 Lieder, Op.18 – In meine innige Nacht; Tu ab den Schmerz; Versuchung
Christopher Maltman (baritone) & Malcolm Martineau (piano)
Reviewed by: Ben Hogwood
Reviewed: 15 December, 2008
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London
This proved a most inventive programme for the Wigmore Hall’s final BBC Radio 3 Lunchtime Concert of 2008.
By beginning with a selection of Holst songs, Christopher Maltman and Malcolm Martineau threw into sharp focus the composer’s often-inventive settings. While Holst composed some 72 songs, it is acknowledged by no less an authority on his music than daughter Imogen that the best are found in the Vedic Hymns and Humbert Wolfe settings.
The Vedic Hymns are a curiosity in English song for their setting of ancient Hindu texts. Somehow they rarely sound like fully fledged hymns, particularly ‘Song of the Frogs’, whose lumbering gait is brilliantly realised by the composer. Here Maltman brought this song to life, facial expressions and all, as the freshly rained-on frogs sang to “rise and join the throng”, with an appropriately odd accompaniment.
The two Humbert Wolfe settings occupied very different emotional worlds. Maltman made ‘The Floral Bandit’ appropriately sneaky, with Martineau effectively evoking a clavichord, before the remoteness of ‘Betelgeuse’ (pronounced Be-tel-gers) brought to mind the Holst of ‘Saturn’ or ‘Uranus’.
The selection of Richard Strauss songs was no less illuminating, the Opus 15 set a rarely performed group, save perhaps for its last song ‘Heimkehr’. Maltman has recorded these for Hyperion (the release is due in February 2009) and sang with great assurance, while Martineau negotiated the tricky pitfalls of the accompaniment with aplomb. He gave the stormy scene of ‘Winternacht’ appropriate bluster, while the sudden cut-off at the close of ‘Aus den Liedern der Trauer’ was brutally effective.
The inclusion of a celebrated pair of songs from the Opus 10 set yielded a reverential ‘Allerseelen’ and a flowing ‘Zueignung’, both beautifully phrased and totally unhurried.
In this context it was then enlightening to hear the Korngold of the three Opus 18 Lieder, far closer to Berg in soundworld than could have been envisaged. A richly coloured piano part, again given excellent definition and substance by Martineau, often made tonality elusive, its rich harmonies determining the melodic contour. Maltman took a very deliberate pace for the first of this set, ‘In meine innige Nacht’, while the awkward melodic contours of ‘Tu ab den Schmerz’ were safely negotiated. Even for Korngold the final song ‘Versuchung’ (‘Temptation’) contains music of unusually intense rapture, a fitting way in which to finish.
Prior to these were the more obviously diatonic “Songs of the Clown”, brilliantly characterised by both performers. The short ditties ‘Adieu, good man devil’ and ‘Hey, Robin’ were brilliantly done, especially with Martineau’s throwaway charm and gestures. While the pair clearly enjoyed Korngold’s ripe humour, they spent more time over ‘O Mistress Mine’, a more luxuriant sound laced with romanticism.
Maltman made a humorous if slightly self-deprecating reference to the pair’s “melodic” programme before bringing it full circle with Holst’s “The Heart Worships” as an encore. This beautifully judged song from 1907 is more obviously English in sound, close to the writing of Vaughan Williams than the pieces heard earlier. Ending in blissful peace, Maltman sang of “Silence on Earth, silence within”, and the audience responded accordingly with commendable calm.