Hugo Wolf Birthday Concert

Mörike-Lieder [selection]
Spanisches Liederbuch [selection]
Goethe-Lieder [selection]

Caprice Corona (soprano); Anna Grevelius (mezzo-soprano); Allan Clayton (tenor); Ronan Collett (baritone) with Roger Vignoles (piano)

Reviewed by: Colin Clarke

Reviewed: 13 March, 2007
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London

Roger Vignoles continues to be one of the leading piano-accompanists of Lieder, here celebrating Hugo Wolf’s birthday to the day. The first half of the recital comprised selections from the “Mörike-Lieder”, the second of eight settings from “Spanisches Liederbuch” and four of the “Goethe-Lieder”.Four young singers were involved. As each one took the spotlight, the remaining three looked on, epitomes of concentration and support for their colleague. It fell to Ronan Collett to kick things off with ‘Fussreise’. Collett, a product of the Royal Academy of Music’s opera programme, and who debuted at the Edinburgh International Festival under Sir Charles Mackerras in Weber’s “Der Freischütz”, impressed through a firm voice and diction. It was quite an achievement not to be upstaged by the dark-voiced Anna Grevelius in the harmonically nebulous ‘Im Frühling’ (a beautifully focussed ‘Auf eine Christblume II’ confirmed his stature). Vignoles accompanied both singers, as he did throughout the evening, with scrupulous attention to detail, a varied tonal palette and true sensitivity.

The tenor contributor was the young Allan Clayton (who was granted the inaugural Sir Elton John Scholarship (!) at the RAM). His biography suggested him as the least experienced singer of this foursome, his slightly piercing tone was somewhat off-putting at first; similarly the Mexican-American soprano Caprice Corona suffered from a slightly nervous start, slightly tremulous in ‘Er ist’s’ (Vignoles’s participation only emphasised this as his playing verged on the virtuoso). Yet both became fully warmed-in, Clayton delivering a memorably dark and nightmarish ‘Dank’ es, o Seele’ and Corona essaying a more than adequate ‘An eine Äolsharfe’ (one of Wolf’s most beautiful songs).

Grevelius’s characterisation in ‘Elfenlied’ provided one of the many highlights of the evening (for some reason I kept thinking of the house-elf Dobby from “Harry Potter”!). Following ‘Mörike Country’, the section of songs entitled ‘Mörike People’ (lovers, a drummer-boy, a forsaken servant girl, a gardener, Weyla, and a final stab at critics!) provided opportunities aplenty and all four singers rose to the task. Contrasts were carefully considered (for example between the jolly ‘Der Tambour’ – superbly realised by Grevelius – and ‘Das verlassene Mägdlein’, the latter barrenly delivered by Corona). I particularly liked Grevelius’s near-Erdaisch delivery of ‘Gesang Weylas’. A pity Corona’s tone was still too edgy to be truly playful in ‘Erstes Liebeslied eines Mädchens’. It was left to Collett to steal the show in ‘Abschied’ (the anti-critic song), with him almost breaking into ‘sprechgesang’ later into the setting … impressive stuff.

The second half of the recital presented eight selections from “Spanisches Liederbuch”. Vignoles announced a discovery he had made in rehearsal – the similarity of the end of ‘Ganymed’ with the first song, ‘Mühvoll komm’ ich und beladen’, and a more telling resonance with Schubert’s ‘Death and the Maiden’ in the monotone voice against the slow chordal piano part. Grevelius did the text’s pleading to a tee, while Vignoles concluded with a postlude of visceral warmth. The dramatic, questioning harmonies of ‘Herr, was trägt der Boden hier’ underpinned Clayton’s confident delivery. Collett’s ‘Nun wandre, Maria’ (a setting of a text on Mary’s Bible-related journey) was another highlight, as were the cheekily delivered ‘In dem Schatten meiner Locken (Grevelius) and Collett’s ‘Wer sein holdes Lieb verloren’ (in the latter one felt the protagonist’s pain over a halting, hesitant piano accompaniment). The only ‘miss’ was Corona’s ‘Sagt, seid Ihr es, feiner Herr’, in which the voice needed a touch more bloom and the characterisation was not quite convincing enough.

Finally, four of the “Goethe-Lieder”. ‘Der Rattenfänger’ featured a dizzying accompaniment from Vignoles (Collett displayed sure diction and presence); alas, Corona could not quite match up to the musical Everest of Mignon (‘Kennst du das Land’). Grevelius provided the last true highlight with a supremely beautiful and warm ‘Anakreons’ Grab’ before Clayton found his most inviting tone yet for ‘Ganymed’. Vignoles’s use of pedal here was a treat (bell-like treble over lower chords). Vignoles’s unshakeable devotion to his art plus his enthusiasm for the younger generation of singers is heart-warming to see and hear.

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