Edinburgh International Festival 2011 – Diana Damrau & Xavier de Maistre [Voice & Harp]

Nuit d’étoiles; Fleur des blés; Clair de lune; Beau soir; Apparition
Recuerdos de la Alhambra
Ständchen, Op.17/1; Efeu, Op.22/3; Schlagende Herzen, Op.29/2; Nichts, Op.10/2; Wiegenlied, Op.41/1; Beim Schlafengehen
Dans la forêt du charme et de l’enchantement; Le temps des lilas; La cigale
Après un rêve; Les berceaux; Notre amour; Impromptu
Chanson triste; L’invitation au voyage
Eva Dell’Acqua

Diana Damrau (soprano) & Xavier de Maistre (harp)

Reviewed by: Alexander Campbell

Reviewed: 2 September, 2011
Venue: Queen's Hall, Edinburgh

Diana Damrau. Photograph: Tanja NiemannThe use of plucked strings as an accompaniment to voices is early history – think lutes and lyres. Yet in the vocal-recital room, outside the Ancient and Baroque repertoire, the use of harp is rare. Here the results were revelatory – subtle changes in tonality registered amidst the spare textures in a way they do not otherwise do, save that the harp lends itself less to sustained phrases that can be more easily achieved using a piano’s pedals or other instruments in the orchestra. This occasionally meant that the singer had less of a cushion to float long lines over. With their thoughtful programme Diana Damrau and Xavier de Maistre certainly gave their Queen’s Hall audience food for thought. The qualities of the harp are evident within music that evokes water, the night sky, sunset and innocence, as well as lending brilliance, exoticism and flourish. Hence it was no surprise that many of Damrau’s song-choices were predominantly to texts about stars, dreams, mystery, forests and flowers.

Xavier de Maistre. Photograph: Marco Borggreve for Sony BMGThe general lightness of sound produced by the harp meant that Damrau had to keep her attractive operatic capability in some check. She lavished her ravishingly creamy and airy voice over a wide dynamic range and revealed a wonderful sense of phrase and direction – only rarely vocalising with operatic amplitude. The final stanza of Debussy’s Nuit d’étoiles was sung at an almost whisper. Damrau is well-known as a coloratura, although her voice is now developing richer overtones and her bright brilliancy may be morphing into something more sumptuous. In the showy Villanelle her top notes temporarily deserted her, though her Bellini encore showed that her technique is still formidable.

Throughout Xavier de Maistre’s playing showed an intuitive mix of solemnity, exuberance and even force. Did he make the arrangements? We should have been told. The provided written commentary sometimes spoke of the piano accompaniments! His solo contributions were nicely varied, from the reflective Recuerdos de la Alhambra to the rhythmically vital Impromptu by Fauré. What was most impressive, particularly in the Strauss, was how he managed to evoke so much absent piano or orchestral colour. In Ständchen, at the phrase “Hier dämmert’s geheimnisvoll unter der Lindenbäument” an unsettling eerie quality emerged surprisingly and fleetingly. Wiegenlied was the outstanding song of the Strauss set with its rippling and lilting accompaniment. Damrau seemed happier to play with the text in the German songs. Schlagende Herzen and Nichts both had a playfulness and skittish humour that was winning. In the French-language settings there were elaborations that occasionally sacrificed beauty of sound and constancy of line. Overall, the charm of this morning recital was the enjoyable interplay of the artists.

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