Les nuits d’été – Villanelle; Le spectre de la rose
Lamento; Au pays où se fait la guerre
Dame Felicity Lott (soprano) & Graham Johnson (piano)
Reviewed by: Ben Hogwood
Reviewed: 7 July, 2008
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London
This was presumably a programme of Graham Johnson’s devising, linking Wagner’s love-struck “Wesendonck-Lieder” with music composed to the poetry of Théophile Gautier.
Wagner first, and a beautiful performance of the song-cycle composed as he worked on the score of “Tristan und Isolde”. It was the two songs subtitled “studie zu Tristan und Isolde” that made the lasting impressions, and especially ‘Im Treibhas’, where the intimacy of Johnson’s introduction was matched by the beautiful tone employed by Lott, evoking the heady humidity of the greenhouse. Likewise ‘Träume’ was beautifully weighted by the pianist and sung with an appropriately dreamy smile. ‘Schmerzen’, meanwhile, had a strong resolution as Lott conveyed the “old splendour” of Wagner’s words.
The French mélodie has long been a speciality of Dame Felicity, and she showed evident enjoyment for ‘Villanelle’, brisk and as light as a feather, with Johnson’s pause before the final chord raising a smile. The tricky low register conclusion to ‘Le spectre de la rose’ proved more difficult, but was still clear.
An early, evocative Hahn setting of the “elm that sways its shadow on the path” followed two Duparc songs, with Lott adopting a thinner tone to convey the “Lament”, with its strongly chromatic writing, then finding the anticipation and eventual subsidence found in the third verse of “Au pays où se fait la guerre”.
Chausson’s “Les papillons” took flight in Johnson’s swirly piano accompaniment – graceful, too – before Falla’s “Trois mélodies” revealed a side of the composer more akin to Ravel and Debussy. Again the subject was on the wing – Doves, this time, in the first song – and Lott’s languorous tone was ideal, as was the exuberance of the ‘Seguidilla’.
Now in her sixties, Felicity Lott continues to show a youthful enthusiasm for the music she performs, and it came across readily in this lunchtime recital – and nowhere more so than the encore, which was more poetry from Gautier, this time set by Gounod. “Où voulez-vous aller” was a bright ray of sunshine, delivered with a nice touch of humour.