“Graham Johnson continues his Songmakers’ Almanac series by celebrating the most famous birthday of all. With a selection of songs by composers from Wolf and Strauss to Vaughan Williams and Britten, the line-up of talented singers explore the Christmas story from numerous characters’ perspectives through the ages.” From Wigmore Hall’s website.
Music by Hugo Wolf, Ralph Vaughan Williams, Peter Warlock, Peter Cornelius, Richard Strauss, Benjamin Britten, Maurice Ravel, Claude Debussy, Harry M. Woods, Francis Poulenc, Ludwig van Beethoven, César Franck, Zoltán Kodály, Noël Coward, Herbert Howells, Charles Edward Ives, Edvard Grieg, Joaquín Nin, Engelbert Humperdinck.
Ailish Tynan (soprano), Anna Huntley (mezzo-soprano), Theodore Platt (baritone), Janet Suzman (actor)
Graham Johnson (piano)
Reviewed by: Amanda-Jane Doran
Reviewed: 21 December, 2019
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London
Graham Johnson has devised another supremely entertaining evening of song and verse in his Songmakers’ Almanac series, this time exploring the delights and black humour of the Christmas season. Aylish Tynan led an accomplished lineup of singers, Anna Huntley and newcomer Theodore Platt, while Janet Suzman breathed electrifying life into an eclectic poetry and prose selection.
The opening group of Lieder from Wolf’s Spanisches Liederbuch emphasised Mary’s personal journey before and after the birth of Jesus. Theodore Platt’s resonant bass-tinged baritone filled the hall effortlessly. This is a voice of unusual power and charm for such a young singer. Anna Huntley’s mezzo balanced this beautifully with touching expression and silvery light vibrato. All three vocalists blended artfully together in many different combinations throughout the evening. Aylish Tynan offered a glorious Christmas present with The First Mercy by Warlock. The initial readings were traditional bible verses, with poetry by Donne and Hardy, but with the second group of works entitled ‘Christmas Giving’, a more subversive tone was evident from the start. Janet Suzman’s impersonation of Adrian Mole at Christmas was hysterical and this section also included the ragtime hit ‘Poor Papa (he’s got nothin’ at all). Tynan made weighty contributions from Strauss and Debussy: her gorgeous layered instrument showered the room with burnished gold. More irreverence also followed, Anna Huntley’s ‘Nous voulons une petite soeur’, by Poulenc, was a comic highlight of the evening. Her acting alongside Aylish Tynan and Theodore Platt in the Noel Coward classic ‘Mrs Worthington’ was priceless and Suzman’s lead in reading by Coward, ‘The Boy Actor’, was hauntingly bitter sweet.
Among the evening’s many surprises was a section devoted to composers whose birthdays fall in December. Beethoven jostled with Franck, Kodály and Coward, songs flirtatious, devotional and melancholy, before returning to a Christmas theme with carols by Howells and Ives. The final group of songs emphasised the beauty of Christmas traditions throughout Europe. A vivacious selection Villancicos Españoles (Spanish carols) were shared between the soloists and Humperdinck’s Weihnachten (Christmas) brought this sparkling and thoroughly grown up entertainment to an end.