Soile Isokoski & Marita Viitasalo at Wigmore Hall – Schumann, Duparc & Kuula

Liederkreis, Op.39
Chanson triste; L’invitation au voyage; Le manoir de Rosemonde; Extase
Paimenet; Suutelo

Soile Isokoski (soprano) & Marita Viitasalo (piano)

Reviewed by: Ben Hogwood

Reviewed: 11 October, 2010
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London

Soile Isokoski. Photograph: Heikki TuuliSoile Isokoski opened this BBC Radio 3 Lunchtime Recital with an expansive account of Schumann’s second “Liederkreis” cycle, the one setting Eichendorff. Demonstrating exceptional vocal control, she noticeably slowed the tempo in songs such as ‘Mondnacht’, where her phrasing was beautifully linked, and in the darker ‘Auf einer burg’, holding on to the last line of text for expressive benefit.

Isokoski has a rich voice, and employed a relatively wide vibrato in the first few songs, but this suited her particularly well in the lower-register writing, where her projection to the back of the hall was strong and her sense of pitch exact. Initially the piano was a dominant force for ‘In der Fremde’, but it was clear that Maria Viitasalo was listening closely to Isokoski, the two displaying complete rapport even when the tempo was deliberately held back; thus the beauty of Schumann’s vocal lines could be fully appreciated. Even if the slower numbers were occasionally laboured, songs such as ‘Schöne Fremde’ retained their bustle, though the accompanying melody in ‘Waldesgespräch’ did become rather scrambled.

To complement Schumann the musicians chose a quartet of songs from the small but concentrated output of Henri Duparc. Isokoski demonstrated wonderful control in the slow melodic contours of ‘Chanson triste’, which turned out to contain a more optimistic musical outlook than its title and text suggests, and Viitasalo found a frisson of danger in the opening to the setting of Charles Baudelaire’s ‘L’invitation au voyage’. The pianist could have been more expansive in her opening to an otherwise expressive ‘Extase’, while prior to this the sense of tragedy in ‘Le manoir de Rosemonde’ was palpable.

Similarly expansive in structure were two songs from Toivo Kuula (1883-1918), the Finnish composer having suffered a tragically early death from what is intriguingly described as a “shooting incident”. An evocative portrayal of herdsmen’s horns ushered in ‘Paimenet’ (Two Shepherds), which grew gradually in stature as it progressed, while the broadly romantic ‘Suutelo’ (The Kiss) benefited supremely from Isokoski’s dramatic pacing and perfect pitching of the low B at the end. As an encore, a third Kuula song, ‘Purjein kuutamolla’ (Sailing in the Moonlight), the first of his Opus 31. A vividly pictorial song, it cast something of a spell with its rippling arpeggios in the piano.

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