Sylvia Schwartz & Simon Lepper at St John’s Smith Square – Rosenblatt Recital

L’amor contrastato [La molinara] – Nel cor più non mi sentio
Se tu m’ami
Paride ed Elena – O del mio dolce ardour
Giulio Cesare – Piangerò la sorte mia; Da tempest
La sonnambula – Ah! non credea mirarti
La pastorella delle alpi; L’invito; La promessa
Seis Canciones Castellanas
El niño judio – De España vengo
El barbero de Sevilla – Me llaman la primorosa

Sylvia Schwartz (soprano) & Simon Lepper (piano)

Reviewed by: Tully Potter

Reviewed: 20 June, 2012
Venue: St John's, Smith Square, London

Sylvia Schwartz. Photograph: www.enonava.deThis concert featuring the charming, accomplished young Spanish soprano Sylvia Schwartz was the 120th Rosenblatt Recital at St John’s – and the last. From September the series moves to Wigmore Hall. Schwartz has a lot going for her, not least a wide command of languages. Her English is idiomatic and virtually unaccented – I believe she was born in the UK – and she has impressed many authorities with her Lieder singing. The biography in the programme booklet was the usual torrent of uninformative agent’s drivel, but one did at least glean that she was well on her way in her operatic career.

Ian Rosenblatt’s audience has a strong operatic bias, so we had an operatic first half, apart from the little Parisotti item once attributed to Pergolesi. That and Paisiello’s famous aria were nicely delivered, but when the going got rougher, I noted a considerable use of both the hard palate and nasal resonance in Schwartz’s florid technique. Her top notes are not the best part of her voice (the same was true of Callas, and one could almost imagine Schwartz, with her hair pulled back off her forehead, as a young Callas) and she can be a tad shrill.

Simon Lepper. ©Jacqui McSweeneyThe Gluck aria was beautifully brought to a close, with a nice unobtrusive trill. Two arias from Handel’s Giulio Cesare were technically fine, apart from the slightly desperate acuti and other small flaws, and the Bellini aria was nicely spun out, with a spirited cabaletta which caught out some of the audience (I do not know why, as the programme clearly heralded it, words and all). Originally Schwartz had planned to end the first half with an aria from Il barbiere di Siviglia (and the second half with the aria from Giménez’s El barbero de Sevilla) but she omitted the Rossini, telling us that it did not fit. I would have liked to hear it, and the first half was quite brief, some 35 minutes.

For the second half Schwartz literally let her hair down, revealing long, lustrous tresses, and from here on, proved a superb recitalist. Three Rossini songs were delightfully turned, but the highlight was Jesús Guridi’s Six Castilian Songs. Apparently this meticulously crafted cycle was banned by the ghastly Franco, along with other Guridi creations, perhaps because his music was a focus for Basque nationalism. These particular songs are settings of traditional texts collected by Enrique de Mesa and although they utilise certain Spanish styles, only the third, a marvellously extrovert piece, and the fifth, a lightly accented jota, are obviously Spanish. Schwartz sang them all extremely well, although anyone with Victoria de los Angeles’s record of the fourth, ‘No quiero tus avellanas’, will have missed that great singer’s ability to play with her tone in an almost instrumental fashion (Vishnevskaya had the same skill, in a different repertoire). Guridi’s excellent piano parts gave Simon Lepper something to get his teeth into – he and Schwartz had a good understanding all evening.

Pablo Luna’s well-known zarzuela aria ‘De España vengo’ and the Giménez ended the programme in upbeat mood. For encores we had lovely accounts of a Granados tonadilla El majo discreto, a Britten-arranged folksong (Down by the salley gardens) in impeccable English and perhaps Turina’s best-known setting, Tu pupila es azul. I hope someone will get Schwartz to record a Guridi recital, as very little of this composer’s music is available.

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