Elizabeth Watts & Roger Vignoles

Suleika I; Im Abendrot; Liane; Im Haine; Aus Diego Manzanares; Ilmerine; Die Männer sind méchant
Mandoline; Romance; Pantomine; Clair de lune; Pierrot; Apparition; Fantoches
Lilacs; How fair this spot; They answered; Oh do not sing again
Ständchen; Breit über mein Haupt; Schlechtes Wetter; Leises Lied; Hat gesagt – bleibt’s nicht dabei
Geoffrey Bush
Far-darting Apollo; An encounter; The End of love; Cuisine provençale; Sigh no more, ladies

Elizabeth Watts (soprano) & Roger Vignoles (piano)

Reviewed by: John T. Hughes

Reviewed: 16 October, 2006
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London

The second half of this YCAT (Young Concert Artists Trust) recital by Elizabeth Watts and Roger Vignoles had more of an impact on me that the first. One is grateful that some lesser-known Schubert songs were included, such as the little “Ilmerine” setting and “Liane”. One or two odd pronunciations were produced: ‘Nacht’ and ‘erwacht’ were sung as ‘Nasht’ and ‘erwasht’. Watts’s voice was in good estate. To the beautiful “Im Abendrot” she brought a reverential approach that was eloquently quiet. She ended the Schubert group with a vigorous “Die Männer sind méchant”, in which she pronounced the final ‘t’ of that fourth word, presumably to rhyme with the foregoing ‘verkannt’. I tried to think whether I had ever heard it other than with a French pronunciation.

The Debussy selection, composed for Madame Vasnier, included a number of songs with some gaiety, some life in them. The freshness of “Pierrot” and “Fantoches” was captured, as was the sadness of “Apparition”.

After the break, the programme continued with the Rachmaninov foursome, beginning with a delightful account of the lovely “Lilacs”, sung with a sweet tone and inward lyricism as the girl seeks happiness among the fragrant flowers. Also dreamily introspective was Watts’s singing of “How fair this spot”, whilst another of Rachmaninov’s best songs, “Oh do not sing again”, benefited from her unsullied tone. In the course of these Russian pieces she placed some ‘spot-on’ high notes that were a pleasure in themselves: no scooping ‘up to them’ for her.

The Strauss Lieder allowed the voice to soar and expand, showing that it has a fine quality, as one heard when Elizabeth Watts won this year’s Kathleen Ferrier Awards. There was a tonal lushness in “Ständchen”, then a gleaming tone for “Breit über mein Haupt”, which she sang touchingly: one of the highlights of the evening. In “Leisies Lied”, Roger Vignoles neatly played the staccato notes in the accompaniment, which contrasted greatly with the cascading whirls of Rachmaninov’s piano-writing. Vignoles took both, and everything in between, in his accomplished stride.

The unknown element in the recital was the group by Geoffrey Bush (1920-98). I had never heard of them, let alone heard them. Unfortunately, there were no notes in the programme to tell us about the songs. They were a disparate quintet which I should like to hear again. “Far-darting Apollo”, a poem by Kathleen Raine, began with chords well down the keyboard and lay in the lower middle of Watts’s voice, sitting comfortably there apart from one or two notes at the bottom which took her out of her easy range. “An encounter”, a meeting with an old man named Death, had a wide scope both musically and histrionically, and Watts introduced a variety of shadings, altering her volume as required. Very unusual was Bush’s “Cuisine provençale”, an extract from Virginia Woolf: my memory suggests it is from “To the Lighthouse”. It is a poem within a prose setting; almost a secco recitative followed by an aria, with the words ‘Luriana, Lurilee’ sung as a refrain. It provided Watts and Vignoles with opportunities to display their wares, which they did to telling effect, before ending their recital with an attractive setting of Shakespeare’s “Sigh no more, Ladies”. Perhaps it was the novelty, but I am tempted to say that the Bush songs crowned the evening, or would have done had the Rachmaninov not been so well performed.

Encores by Richard Strauss (“Allerseelen”) and Copland (“Why do they shut me out of heaven?”) were forthcoming.

The Ferrier Awards winner is usually given a recital at the Wigmore Hall as part of the prize. This was not it, so watch out for it!

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