Pretty Yende & James Vaughan at Wigmore Hall – Rosenblatt Recital

Soirées musicales – I: La promessa
Sei ariette – IV: Almen se non poss’io
6 Romanze – IV: Lo spazzocamin
Soirées musicales – V: L’invito
Les nuits d’été à Pausilippe – I: Il barcaiuolo
Tre sonetti di Petrarca
Beau soir; Fleur des blés; Clair de lune; Apparition; Mandoline
Lady in the Dark – My Ship
By Strauss
Delicious – Blah blah blah!
West Side Story – I feel pretty
Linda di Chamounix – O luce di quest’anima

Pretty Yende (soprano) & James Vaughan (piano)

Reviewed by: Richard Nicholson

Reviewed: 6 June, 2013
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London

Pretty Yende & James Vaughan at Wigmore Hall. Photograph: Jonathan RoseRosenblatt Recitals rounded off a momentous season by presenting a young singer of immense promise. Plácido Domingo’s annual Operalia competition has a gold-plated record of identifying talent: Pretty Yende was an unprecedented triple winner in 2011. The South African soprano is not the first black singer to emerge onto the international stage since the end of apartheid (it is a swelling tide) but she may well prove to be the finest.

The programme was intelligently planned and constructed. No string of commonplace operatic arias for her. Some patrons were to be heard expressing themselves cheated of full-blooded Italian bel canto; after all, Yende’s current reputation is largely based on her last-minute substitution in the role of Countess Adèle in Rossini’s Le Comte Ory at the Metropolitan. Yende’s voice has the substance of a strong lyric soprano, with a warm middle register and a fully functioning and extended top range. The production is completely even and on this occasion only the odd note nervily attacked under-pitch suggested that the voice was not under total control. The timbre may not yet be wholly individual, but she already has the ability to colour the voice to fulfil her interpretative intentions.

It was clear from the start that Yende is well-schooled technically and stylistically. She made the Rossini miniatures and the gentle ariettes of Bellini and Donizetti seem much greater than they appear on the page, especially the Rossini, the fount of melodic creation in this genre as in operas. Only the witty Verdi song about the chimney sweep broke free into an altogether more dramatic idiom.

The Petrarch Sonnets are a taxing test of musicianship for any singer. Most often heard from a tenor, as originally conceived, the performer is faced with demanding issues of phrasing, much vocalising in a high tessitura and isolated high notes. Yende never flinched, even at the treacherous top A marked sotto voce religiosamente at the words “Benedette le voci” in the second Sonnet.

For those desiring an evening of brilliant fioriture and stratospheric high notes there will have been a degree of frustration. A group of seemingly ascetic Debussy mélodies also demand the skills of a bel canto singer: the management of a climax, for example, in Fleur des bles; the way in which the vocal line of Apparition carries the singer aloft, culminating in a top C; and the way in which, in Mandoline, singer and pianist are required to maintain a breathless pace, not to mention the excursions into chest register. There was no denying Yende’s understanding of this, nor the well-judged balance of James Vaughan’s piano.

The selections from musicals brought the two artists to a fruitful, informal relationship. The test here is one of communication, one of Yende’s strengths. Beaming exuberantly and not fazed even by a surprising memory lapse in, of all things, ‘I feel pretty’, Yende wholeheartedly grasped the opportunities to create characters and deliver verbal wit. Vaughan was stimulated by the freedom he enjoyed to play his music flexibly with much nonchalant rubato.

Yende teased her audience by making it wait for her bel canto side until the very last minute, having first displayed the relevance of other areas of repertoire to the demands of Italian opera. In the aria from Linda di Chamounix she unleashed a volley of alternating high notes, a genuine trill and a final flourish which would have thrilled the most committed collector of old recordings of sopranos. She then proceeded to repeat the dose with Rossini’s ‘Bel raggio lusinghier’ as a spectacular first encore. Lauretta’s appeal to her father Gianni Schicchi, delightfully sung, completed the evening.

Some thought the move to Wigmore Hall after twelve years at St John’s Smith Square an unnecessary risk. In fact it has been part of an expansion of this enterprise which now includes a partnership with Opus Arte in the issue of compact discs by some of the recitalists and with Sky Arts, its filmed recordings of concerts from earlier in the season are soon to be broadcast. The programme for the 2013-2014 season promises to be at least as good as the one just finished.

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