Mark Elder conducts Wagner at Royal Academy of Music with Sarah-Jane Lewis in Isolde’s Liebestod

Parsifal – Good Friday Music
Lohengrin – Prelude to Act I; Prelude to Act III
Tristan und Isolde – Prelude and Liebestod

Sarah-Jane Lewis (soprano)

Academy Concert Orchestra
Sir Mark Elder

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: 19 April, 2013
Venue: Duke’s Hall, Royal Academy of Music, London

Sir Mark Elder. Photograph: Simon DoddWhen Sir Mark Elder turned to the audience it was I think safe to assume he was going to remember Sir Colin Davis, who had passed away on the Sunday before. That he didn’t do so, but instead made a brief introduction – genial and witty – to preface the music, was a surprise, especially as we were in one of the places where Sir Colin was an inspiring presence for many years. True, the RAM’s Principal, Jonathan Freeman-Attwood, had previously issued a very touching tribute (to be found on this site’s news section), but even so…

Sarah-Jane Lewis. Photograph: www.sarah-janelewis.comHowever, this omission should not detract from an excellent lunchtime concert. The ‘Good Friday Music’ from Wagner’s final stage-work was given a noble and sensitive performance, with some very expressive pianissimos and without false sentiment. Elder’s way with this snippet suggests that his reading of the complete Bühnenweihfestspiel (Sacred Festival Play) is likely to be relatively swift and cohesive – we’ll find out at the BBC Proms on August 25 when he conducts the Hallé with Lars Cleveman in the title role. The Academy Concert Orchestra’s playing, well-prepared, admirable and dedicated, continued into the Lohengrin preludes, that to Act One solemn and radiant, pure and well-arrowed to the brass-led climax, with that to Act Three rousing, Elder choosing an ideal tempo for clear but not pedantic articulation. Let it run a few more bars and the ‘Wedding March’ steals in!

It was the ‘Prelude and Liebestod’ – a genius way of bookending the seminal music-drama that Tristan und Isolde is – which really stole the show. Elder’s slow-burn conducting made the music pregnant with tragedy, of ill-fated love, and antiphonal violins told their own discourse. This was already compelling stuff … and then Sarah-Jane Lewis arose to address Isolde’s ‘Liebestod’. Wow, she’s good! A graduate of the Royal College of Music, Lewis is now studying at the RAM, one of her professors being Ryland Davies. She sang with confidence, her high and long-held notes were totally certain and centred, and she really seemed involved with the story’s denouement. Sarah-Jane Lewis’s voice is glorious, and she doesn’t lack for vivid portrayal either – in Isolde’s ‘love-death’, Lewis brought the character alive.

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