Fantasy Sonata in E flat
Four Pieces, Op.5
Don Quichotte à Dulcinée
Adagio in E flat
La vie antérieure
L’invitation au voyage
Maarten Koningsberger (baritone)
Michael Collins (clarinet)
Paul Turner (piano)
Reviewed by: Richard Whitehouse
Reviewed: 5 May, 2006
Venue: St John's, Smith Square, London
The last of Paul Turner’s three concerts built around the songs of Henri Duparc was a further fine combination of vocal and chamber music, highlighting the luxe, calme et volupté essence of both his music and the era in general. Maarten Koningsberger was on hand for the songs – opening with four of Hugo Wolf’s “Mörike-Lieder” (1888): the unexpectedly amiable ‘Fussreise’ and the amiably unpredictable ‘Auf einer Wanderung’, the questing ‘Denk’ es, O Seele!’ and the searching ‘Verborgenheit’ – done with sensitivity to Wolf’s distinctive arioso, with Turner in command of those intricate piano parts that must present considerable co-ordination problems with the voice.
If Ravel’s “Don Quichotte à Dulcinée” (1933) was less successful, this was a matter of the lilting and capricious outer songs sounding too studied – though ‘Chanson épique’ was done with touching sensitivity: a moving (and premature) end to Ravel’s composing.
The instrumental portion was taken on by the ever-dependable Michael Collins – beginning with John Ireland’s Fantasy Sonata (1943), a compact three-movements-in-one piece whose touching familiar traits of nostalgia and resignation is the more effective through its brevity. Even more compressed, Berg’s Four Pieces (1913) evince a far greater emotional range – from the sardonic humour of the first and third, to the ruminative sadness of the second and the violent contrasts of the fourth: all finely realised in a quite exceptional account.
After the interval, two novelties in the shape of a brief Concertino by Gabriel Grovlez (1879-1944) – a lively if anonymous item that bears all the hallmarks of a Paris Conservatoire test-piece – and the Adagio by Heinrich Baermann (1784-1847) which, in its original guise for clarinet and string quartet, once enjoyed the caché of being the one extant chamber piece by Wagner. Collins had the measure of its noble lyricism and also Debussy’s Première Rhapsodie (1910) by Debussy – its liquid transitions between yearning and caprice ably done, and with Turner finding a depth in the piano part to make one reconsider whether the piece is actually better served in orchestral garb.
It is Duparc who has been the touchstone of this series, and it was fitting that his songs concluded the final recital. Koningsberger readily brought out the sensuous repose in the setting of De Lisle’s “Phidylé”, and was equally sensitive to the emotions – rarefied or precious, according to one’s viewpoint – of Baudelaire’s “La vie antérieure” (with its extended piano postlude that amounts almost to a ‘verse without words’). The wistful contentment of Lahor’s “Sérénade Florentine” is unique in Duparc’s output, whereas the doom-laden repose of that same poet’s “Extase” might be taken as its musical encapsulation. Koningsberger was fully attuned to the sentiments of each, and it was a judicious move to end the selection with Baudelaire’s “L’invitation au voyage” – its fond yet fateful envisaging of a ‘world beyond’ as appropriate a conclusion to the last of this series as it had been as a beginning to the first of them.
A fine recital and a fine series – whose artistic excellence has been as consistent as, unfortunately, the paltry attendance. Hopefully Turner will not be deterred from putting on further such events that give full scope to his flair for programming as to his subtle and alluring pianism – the latter fully evident in a luminous reading of Debussy’s Clair de lune (from Suite bergamasque), which brought the evening to a fitting close.