Sarah Connolly, Julius Drake & Emily Berrington at Wigmore Hall – Zemlinsky/Maeterlinck, Schumann/Mary Stuart, Argento/Virginia Woolf

Sechs Gesänge Op.13
Gedichte der Königin Maria Stuart, Op.135 [“with excerpts from Mary Stuart by Friedrich Schiller in a new adaptation by Robert Icke”*]
Dominick Argento
From the Diary of Virginia Woolf [including readings from Woolf’s A Winter’s Diary*]

Dame Sarah Connolly (mezzo-soprano) & Julius Drake (piano) with *Emily Berrington (actor)

Reviewed by: Amanda-Jane Doran

Reviewed: 15 March, 2019
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London

Sarah Connolly, Emily Berrington & Julius DrakePhotograph: Twitter @Thalie_KnightsSarah Connolly and Julius Drake assembled a fascinating and intense programme for their Wigmore Hall recital exploring the interior world of women’s lives, as imagined by three very different male composers.

Zemlinsky’s haunting Six Songs conjured a fairy-tale landscape described in the poetry of Maeterlinck. Zemlinsky’s pared-down soundworld was beautifully detailed by the performers. These sad, symbolist lyrics are infused with mortality and from Connolly they became part of a mystic journey towards wisdom. Her majestic stage-presence combined with a voice of burnished power communicated every colour of text and music, often unsettling, gorgeous and profound.

Robert Schumann’s Mary Stuart settings were made in 1852, when he suffered from increasing mental instability. They share the emotional depth of the Zemlinsky settings and a heightened dramatic element as monologues in the Queen’s own voice. Connolly excelled in depicting these imagined historical scenes, heavily influenced by Schiller’s Mary Stuart, published in 1800. Connolly and Laura Tunbridge selected extracts from the play and Schumann’s letters to intersperse the songs, read by Emily Berrington. The translations and delivery were sadly at odds with the ambience of Schumann’s impassioned gems.

The recently-late Dominick Argento’s From the Diary of Virginia Woolf, composed for Janet Baker in 1974, with diary-readings interspersed, made for an hour-long second half. A lengthy article by Kate Kennedy detailed the process of selecting further material from Woolf. Given that Argento had already made his choices and set them to convey Woolf’s mental fragility, vulnerability and humanity, this was a misguided undertaking – disrupting the musical flow.

Connolly and Drake again excelled in their enterprise, but the interpolations diluted the power of Argento’s sensitive exploration of a life. His transparent harmonies and delicate thematic signposts, sinister reveilles and repeated high notes of anxiety, were lost among read-out excerpts. One quotation exposed Woolf’s repellent condescension to her servants’ taste in music.

Connolly represented Woolf magisterially in song and Drake was sensitive and virtuosic, but the additional narrative did not match either in content or theatrical rendition.

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