Susan Graham & Malcolm Martineau at Wigmore Hall – Frauenliebe und -leben: Variations

Frauenliebe und -leben, Op.42
interspersed with:
Haugtussa, Op.67 – IV: Møte
Sechs Lieder, Op.17 – I: Seitdem dein Aug’ in meines schaute
John Dankworth
Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Deux Mélodies, Op.27 – I: Chanson d’amour
Fem dikter – III: Melodi
Melodies of the Heart, Op.5 – III: Jeg elsker dig
Trois Mélodies, Op.8 – I: Au bord de l’eau
Das Knaben Wunderhorn – Rheinlegendchen
Poema en forma da canciones, Op.19 – IV: Los dos miedos
Myrten, Op.25 – Lied der Braut I & II
Cinq Mélodies populaires grecques – V: Tout gai!
Chanson de Bilitis – II: La chevelure
Six Romances, Op.16 – I: Cradle Song
La courte paille – VI: Le carafon
Acht Lieder, Op.49 – III: Wiegenliedchen
Les Nuits d’été, Op.7 – IV: Absence
Tonadillas en un estilo antiguo, H136 – La maja dolorosa No.1
Four Shakespeare Songs, Op.30 – III: How should I your true love know?

Susan Graham (mezzo-soprano) & Malcolm Martineau (piano)

Reviewed by: David Truslove

Reviewed: 24 March, 2016
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London

Susan GrahamPhotograph: Dario AcostaThis was one of those glorious occasions when singer and pianist were brilliantly matched, and the combined artistry utterly engaging. At first glance this programme looked like the musical equivalent of a chef’s tasting-menu – such was the variety of songs on offer. Susan Graham served up thirty-one, inclusive of two encores and an unnamed surprise item by Ned Rorem that traversed eight languages and roamed far and wide across two centuries. She was completely at home.

The focal point for this Wigmore Hall recital was Robert Schumann’s Frauenliebe und -leben, interspersed by groups of songs arranged in relation to the stages of Schumann’s narrative. Thus a pair of songs by Fauré and Grieg (associated with youthful passion) was prefaced by ‘Ich kann’s nich fassen’ (I cannot grasp it), and a trio from Poulenc, Tchaikovsky and Richard Strauss (relating to the joy of motherhood) highlighted Schumann’s ‘An meinem Herzen, an meinem Brust’ (On my heart, at my breast).

If I had misgivings that such a scheme might undermine the accumulative tensions to be found in Schumann’s compilation, these were quickly dispelled by the ease with which the songs were integrated. It helped that Graham possesses a voice of rich beauty and extensive expressive range. There was just one clunky juxtaposition where John Dankworth’s cabaret-style ‘Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?’ seemed to jar after the nobility of Schumann’s ‘Er, der Herrlichste von Allen’. Occasionally, tempos could have had a wider reach – Ravel’s infectious ‘Tout gai!’ felt earthbound for being just a notch too slow and Fauré’s great outpouring of love that is ‘Chanson d’amour’ could have been more languorous. Sentimentality, however, was largely absent; although Grieg’s tuneful ‘Møte’ came close to being saccharine.

Malcolm MartineauPhotograph: © Russell DuncanQuibbles aside, this was an imaginatively-conceived collection, and a rewarding encounter with music from less familiar figures like Rangström and Turina. Poulenc’s nonsense song ‘Le carafon’ provided some timely humour. It was in the French repertoire that Graham seemed most comfortable: in Duparc’s ‘Phidylé’ and Debussy’s ‘La chevelure’ her voice glowed with a radiance and magnetism just right for the settings’ erotic imagery. If one missed the orchestral hues of Berlioz’s ‘Absence’ there was plenty of rich colouring in her lower register and the sense of bereavement (and its hopelessness) in the final verse was movingly conveyed.

Susan Graham’s love of the Schumann was obvious, most noticeably in ‘Süßer Freund du blickest’ where she began each phrase with perfect control, her tone melting but always secure. Her lovingly-rendered final song of the cycle (‘Nun hast du mir den ersten Schmerz getan’) was made especially poignant by Malcolm Martineau. After all this pathos Graham returned on a lighter note for two encores: Reynaldo Hahn’s exquisite ‘À Chloris’ and Richard Rodgers’s ‘Hello Young Lovers’ (from The King and I). Both were spellbinding, and demonstrated, as throughout, Graham’s warmth of tone and her natural gifts as a communicator. Graham and Martineau had given a Michelin-starred evening.

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