Songs by Liszt, Duparc, Fauré and Rachmaninov; and folksong arrangements by Britten
Paul Groves (tenor) &
Malcolm Martineau (piano)
Reviewed by: John T. Hughes
Reviewed: 22 December, 2004
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London
The first recital at the Wigmore Hall by the American tenor Paul Groves produced singing of much sensitivity and a wide range of vocal colouring. Most effective was a well-supported head-voice, particularly noteworthy in the two groups of French songs, which were ideally suited to such treatment.
The singer began, though, with five Heine settings by Liszt, culminating in “Die Lorelei”, which brought from Groves a building of the tension, a steady increase in volume, as the boatman, lured by the Loreley’s song, crashes his craft against the rocks. Earlier, Groves had caught the gentleness of “Du bist wie eine Blume”, and bitterness was mixed with despair in his interpretation of “Anfangs wollt’ich fast verzagen”.
The succeeding Duparc songs, seven in all, showed Groves at his best. “L’invitation au voyage”, in which the poet, Baudelaire, thinks of a land of contentment, drew from the singer and pianist a wistfulness that must have been shared by most of the audience. Even more convincing was the introspection of “Lamento”, in which Groves reduced the resonance in his voice as he sung of the lone dove sitting in the yew, its song resembling the awakened soul weeping under the ground. This was Groves at his most sensitive, yet in another sad song, “Chanson triste”, he produced a varied approach before conveying the poet’s emptiness in “Soupir” in virtual half-voice throughout. Equally sensitive were “Extase”, also sung with telling restraint, and the more diverse “Phidylé”, with head-voice again skilfully employed before he opened the tone to swell the volume for the last stanza. Groves held my attention in every song.
After the interval he presented five folksongs arranged by Britten, notably “Sally in our Alley”, which is all the better for Britten’s accompaniment not being overblown. If Grove’s head-voice became falsetto once or twice in “Early one morning”, he again produced variety by darkening and filling out the tone in “Ca’ the yowes”.
The second French group consisted of four songs by Fauré, all to texts by Victor Hugo, beginning with the composer’s Opus 1 No.1: “Le papillon et la fleur”, in which Malcolm Martineau’s fingers flitted and flickered like the butterfly, and Groves caught the lightness of the melody. He brought a lilting forward movement to “Mai” and scaled his voice to suit the airiness of “Rêve d’amour”, a song which really does have charm. Just as convincing was the emptiness of “L’absent”: the child mourning a father, the woman her man. It is a sad, bitter song, ending with “And what do you carry? – A coffin.”. Once more Groves was responsive to the word, withdrawing or reducing fullness and weight of tone as the poem deserved.
The fourth language in the recital was Russian, for some Rachmaninov items, of which “In the silence of the night” brought those attractive head-notes into play again.
What had already been a generous, well-filled recital was extended by Groves’s addition of two encores: Duparc’s “Sérénade” and, with humour, “A tenor all singers above” from “Utopia Ltd” by Gilbert and Sullivan.
So ended a programme made enjoyable by the singer’s ability to present each song on its merits, to alter his approach in accord with the sentiments of the poems. Of course, Paul Groves was fortunate in having one of the best accompanists as his partner, and Malcolm Martineau’s contributions were of the expected high standard, from the relative sparseness of the piano part for some of the Britten arrangements to the more exuberant Liszt and Rachmaninov songs.