Julia Lezhneva & Michael Antonenko at St James’s Piccadilly

In furore iustissimae irae – In furore iustissimae irae
Saeviat tellus inter rigores – O nox dulcis, quies serena
In caelo stelle clare fulgescant – Care Deus cordis amantis
Exsultate, jubilate, K165 – Alleluia
La regata veneziana: Tre canzoni in dialetto veneziano
Ma rendi pur contento
Impromptu in G flat, D899/3; Nacht und Träume, D827; Die junge Nonne, D828; Im Frühling, D882

Julia Lezhneva (soprano) & Michael Antonenko (piano)

Reviewed by: Curtis Rogers

Reviewed: 7 March, 2013
Venue: St James’s Church, Piccadilly, London

Julia Lezhneva. Photograph: Decca/Uli WeberThis marked Julia Lezhneva’s recital debut in London, and not before time. Although only 23 years old, the purity of tone in her voice and the technical prowess she displayed was remarkable.The programme comprised some quite contrasted pieces and she was highly adept at creating the right style for each one.

Lezhneva’s first solo recording, Alleluia, is released soon (478 5242) and the opening part of the recital provided some extracts from the (mainly Baroque) motets that will feature on it. In the dramatic aria from Vivaldi’s In furore iustissimae irae it was astonishing to hear such a deep and powerful voice from the chest of so petite a figure. But she seemed to relish filling the resonant acoustic of the stylistically complementary Wren church, though there was nothing of the prima donna in her demeanour. She performed the Vivaldi with a sort of fluttering vibrato that had something of Cecilia Bartoli in it, though perhaps more subtlety.

This was carried over into the Popora extract, which with carefully shaded nuances, sparkled. In between Lezhneva effected a very different tone for the Handel – one of the composer’s essays in touching simplicity and Lezhneva’s singing matched that with her vibrato-less clarity. It was a pity not to have heard her in the virtuosity of that motet’s opening aria, with its high Ds and florid writing, but this was partly made up for in the exuberance of the ‘Alleluia’ from Mozart’s Exsultate, jubilate. Her bright, intense seamlessness of the melodic lines is well-suited to Mozart and could also be used to stunning effect in Purcell, particularly in Britten’s arrangements, given her musical partnership with Michael Antonenko enjoys complete musical accord.

Later in the recital her voice opened out still more for the operatic drama of Rossini’s three Canzoni and the bel canto of the Bellini arietta, though in the latter there was not quite that sense of an accumulation of emotion finding its release in the climax. Lezhneva’s particular strength lies in her ability to create a tone of steady, hushed intensity like a beam of silvery light, then transmuted into the mood of vulnerability and transcended pain required in the three Schubert songs. By himself in the G flat Impromptu Antonenko took an impassioned, Romantic approach, although in this ‘song without words’ the melody could have been more cantabile.

There were two encores: in the first she gave another dazzling display of agility (presumably either Porpora or Vivaldi) and then Rachmaninov’s Daises in which Lezhneva cultivated some darker tones. My only qualification is that she may be tempted to indulge in the sheer beauty of her tone. That is entirely understandable as she does have a sublime and near-flawless technique. But over time there is no reason why she should not be able to develop more dramatic nuance and layering in her style of which she already showed herself capable in the Rossini. This recital demonstrated that she possesses a special combination of innate musical sense with a highly accomplished technique.

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