Elizabeth Watts & Philip Thomas at Wigmore Hall

Als Luise die Briefe, K520; Das Veilchen, K476; Abendempfindung an Laura, K523; Dans un bois solitaire, K308; Ridente la calma, K152/K210a; Wie unglücklich bin ich nit, K147; Der Zauberer, K472
Neue Liebe, Op.19a/4; Der Mond, Op.86/5; Es weiss und rät es doch keiner, Op.99/6; Romanze, Op.8/10; Im Frühling, Op.9/4; Frage: Ist es wahr?, Op.9/1; Hexenlied, Op.8/8
Italienisches Liederbuch [selection: Auch kleine Dinge; Mein Liebster ist so klein; Wer rief dich denn?; Mein Liebster hat zu Tische mich geladen; Du denkst mit einem Fädchen mich zu fangen; Mein Liebster singt am Haus; Wohl kenn ich Euren Stanr; Wir haben beide lange Zeit; Schweig’ einmal still; Ich hab in Penna einen Liebsten]

Elizabeth Watts (soprano) & Philip Thomas (piano)

Reviewed by: Ben Hogwood

Reviewed: 5 January, 2009
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London

Elizabeth WattsIt seems strange to speak of Mozart and Mendelssohn as neglected composers, yet in the medium of song they remain relatively unrepresented.

This “With and Without Words” series redresses the balance somewhat for Mendelssohn, with Elizabeth’s Watts’s BBC Lunchtime Concert generously programmed with some of the his Lieder with a night-time theme. Watts was fully into character for ‘Neue Liebe’, with a repertoire of wary glances and nervous smiles bringing Heine’s text to life. Philip Thomas experienced initial difficulties in defining the tricky dotted rhythms of the accompaniment, though the early ‘Im Frühling’ found him fully in command of the complicated piano part.

Particularly affecting were two later settings: ‘Der Mond’ eventually resolving; whilst ‘Es weiss und rät es doch keiner’ (No one knows and No one can guess) demonstrated a conflict between expressions of happiness and harmonic uncertainty, beautifully realised by both artists. Most affecting of all was ‘Frage: Ist es wahr?’ (Question: Is it true?), a Voss setting of uncomplicated yearning. Contrasting was the macabre ‘Hexenlied’, in which Watts was shrill of tone, while Thomas brought off the closing piano statement with great conviction.

The Mozart songs felt like operatic outtakes, particularly “Als Luise die Briefe”. Charming was Goethe’s “Das Veilchen” (The Violet) – lightly playful and nicely pointed. “Ridente la calma”, to a melody by Mozart’s contemporary Mysliveček, proved something of an early gem, its melodic ornamentations tastefully delivered. More puzzling was “Wie unglücklich bin ich nit”, which sang of unhappiness in a remarkably similar guise to the previous song’s evocation of tranquility. Occasionally, Thomas lacked full definition of phrase, though by the stressed ‘wrong’ notes of “Der Zauberer”, with its breathless warnings from Watts in the refrain, this was an afterthought.

The Wolf selection was an agreeably linked set of short songs taken from “Italienisches Liederbuch” (Italian Songbook), Paul Heyse’s translations ranging from the nonsensical ‘Mein Liebster ist so klein’ to the accusatory ‘Wer rief dich denn?’. Watts delivered these with apposite impish humour and affected gazes; the flatter tone adopted by her in ‘Wir haben beide lange Zeit’ was particularly affecting. The soaring climax to the final song was nicely complemented by the cascades of Thomas’s playing – an ideal way to finish. Save Schubert’s “Die forelle” (The Trout) was added as an encore!

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