Une rare émotion – Christopher Maltman at Wigmore Hall – The songs of Maurice Ravel and his circle

Deux épigrammes de Clément Marot [D’Anne qui me jecta de la neige; D’Anne jouant de l’espinette]
Manteau de fleurs; Les grands vents venus d’outre-mer; Sainte
Lied; Tes yeux bleus; Chanson pour Jeanne; Les cigales
Histoires naturelles
Deux mélodies hébraïques – Kaddisch
Chanson hébraïque
Deux mélodies hébraïques – L’énigme éternelle
Vaughan Williams
Let beauty awake; Linden Lea; Love bade me welcome; The water mill; Silent noon
Don Quichotte à Dulcinée

Christopher Maltman (baritone) & Christopher Glynn (piano)

Reviewed by: Mark Valencia

Reviewed: 15 January, 2012
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London

Christopher Maltman. ©Levon Biss The encores, Reynaldo Hahn’s Bach-inflected romance À Chloris and The Vagabond by Ralph Vaughan Williams (from Songs of Travel), found the two Christophers, Maltman and Glynn, in cheerful accord. Relaxed and characterful, they clearly savoured their mood of shared buoyancy – a state that earlier on in this recital had manifested itself only intermittently.

Although Christopher Maltman is a formidable recitalist, for this second concert in the Wigmore Hall series “Une rare émotion”, devoted to settings by Ravel and his circle, there was a sense that he was not entirely under the skin of certain songs. This suspicion had less to do with the sporadic appearance of a music stand than with the singer’s occasional lapses into purely technical singing. There were problems at the start of each half. Ravel’s Deux épigrammes de Clément Marot are period love stories in miniature, yet they suffered from the oddest of interpretations as the baritone dug into his guts to over-egg the simplicity of ‘D’Anne qui me jecta de la neige’ (Anne who threw snow at me) and substituted angst for joy in ‘D’Anne jouant de l’espinette’ (Anne playing the spinet). Later, moreover, in the evocative Chanson hébraïque of 1910 (whose characteristic Jewish melody borders on pastiche) Maltman shunned the opportunity to colour the text’s inner dialogue – as he would surely do with, say, Schubert’s Erlkönig or George Butterworth’s ‘Is my team ploughing?’ (A Shropshire Lad) – and opted instead for an anonymous, unvaried account. He seemed out of sorts.

By contrast, an attractive cluster of verse settings by Chabrier found Maltman and the sensitive Christopher Glynn at their most comfortable. Are these songs staples of the singer’s repertoire? He certainly gave that impression with his carefree, loose-limbed rendition of Lied (Song), the cheeky Belle-Époque number that opened the group. After the rhapsodic Tes yeux bleus (Your blue eyes), a deceptively simple salon-waltz introduced the masterly Chanson pour Jeanne (Song for Jeanne). This setting of a poem by Catulle Mendès has an intriguing accompaniment, superbly negotiated by Glynn, that winds along unexpected pathways while the singer, given a vocal line that rarely roams far from the dominant fifth, must hang his interpretation on the touching simplicity of the text. Maltman relished the chance to inject shade and depth into this song, as indeed he did with the Les cigales (The cicadas), for which he combined the urgent articulation of Pierre Bernac with the bonhomie of Charles Trenet.

As a change of gear (and language) the inclusion of songs by Vaughan Williams clearly pleased the audience, but set against the classy Ravel their relative inferiority failed to inspire either performer – until, that is, they reached the final song in their group, the flawless Silent noon. Like RVW, Maltman was at his best here, adding discreet shading and pellucid texture to Dante Rossetti’s rich verse.

Maltman and Glynn set about Ravel’s Histoires naturelles with controlled abandon. In ‘Le Paon’ (The peacock), the first of the foxily-named Jules Renard’s animal poems, Maltman’s immaculate diction and haughty eyebrow-raising caught the wry anthropomorphic comedy exactly, while in ‘Le grillon’ (The cricket) the composer’s spare alternation of eponymous insect-related sounds with protracted silences saw both artists achieve a satisfying symbiosis. They enjoyed a comparable rapport in Don Quichotte à Dulcinée, the colourful set of Iberian mélodies composed by Ravel at the end of his life, all three of which showcased Maltman’s deft interpretative skills and Glynn’s warm, affectionate pianism.

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