PLG Young Singers Concert – 23 Feb

Songs by Ravel, Mahler, Berg, Offenbach, Stravinsky, Satie, Hahn, Prokofiev, Poulenc, Debussy & Thomas

Claire Booth (soprano) &
Ryan Wigglesworth (piano)

Hélène Hébrard (mezzo-soprano) &
Catherine Daiprés (piano)

Reviewed by: Kadir Hussein

Reviewed: 23 February, 2003
Venue: Purcell Room, London

This recital, under the auspices of the Park Lane Group, given by two young singers to commemorate the life of the American mezzo Jennie Tourel, who died 30 years ago, was unfortunately not well attended. This is a great shame since at least one of the singers was definitely worth hearing.

Hélène Hébrard, born in Paris in 1975, was giving her first performance in London. She has a bright but surprisingly rich tone, which she projected with wonderful clarity: every word was clear and the musical line remained intact. And, joy of joys, how satisfying it was to hear French music sang idiomatically (words sung on the breath) by a singer in her own tongue. Hébrard started her programme with two songs from Ravel’s orchestral song-cycle Shéhérazade, understandably leaving out ’Asie’ which is hardly possible to perform with piano accompaniment.Although she sang ’La flûte enchantée’ and ’L’indifférent’ with some sensuality and rhythmic precision, I would have liked more dynamic variety and a little more oriental languor. Ravel’s colourful orchestration was missed.

In three of Debussy’s Chansons de Bilitis there again was not enough tonal and dynamic variety to distinguish the awakening of first love, then the heights attained by this love, and then dying passion. However, Connais-tu le pays? from Thomas’s opera Mignon was sung with a smooth legato and great feeling – Hébrard’s soft singing was especially touching.

After the interval, she seemed more relaxed. In Poulenc’s urbane and sophisticated songs she was clearly enjoying herself: there was seductive tone in La Reine de Coeur, blissful happiness in Hôtel and Parisian chic in Voyage à Paris. Hahn’s charming trifle L’incrédule was delightfully sung and Hébrard’s seductive tones curled invitingly around Satie’s waltz Je te veux. By this time one sensed a huge smile spreading across the face of the audience and with Hahn’s beautiful Bachian pastiche À Chloris one sensed a collective sigh of contentment. The satisfaction was complete with her rendition of Ah! mon Dieu, que les hommes sont bêtes! from Offenbach’s ever-green satire La Périchole. A singer to watch!

I wish I could be more enthusiastic about Claire Booth (born in 1977). Hers is an unremarkable, at times unfocused and throaty soprano with an intrusive vibrato. There was little sweetness and too much enthusiasm in Mahler’s songs of love and youth, Erinnerung and Wer hat dies Liedlein erdacht? Despite Booth’s good range and admirable breath-control Alban Berg’s Seven Early Songs came across as rather dull; her tone lacked roundness and sensuality, and there was little light and shade. Having said that, the end of ’Traumgekrönt was sensitively projected and Im Zimmer was rewardingly phrased.

After the interval, both singers heard in each half, Booth sang Prokofiev’s Five Poems of Anna Akhmatova. I admired her courage to sing these listener-unfriendly songs but again could not enjoy her shallow tone and monotonous singing. I am afraid there was worse to come: Anne Truelove’s aria from Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress was ’sung’ with a shrill and edgy tone, consistently loud and with indistinct enunciation.

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