Kate Royal & Christine Rice

Let us wonder not unseen; Lost is my quiet; What can we poor females do?; Sound the trumpet
Abschiedslied der Zugvögel; Gruss; Herbstlied; Volkslied
D’un coeur qui t’aime; Fleur des bois
La nuit; Le réveil
Die Schwestern; Sommerabend; Weg der Liebe I & II; Phänomen; Walpurgisnacht

Kate Royal (soprano), Christine Rice (mezzo-soprano) & Roger Vignoles (piano)

Reviewed by: John T. Hughes

Reviewed: 24 July, 2006
Venue: Cadogan Hall, London

This Proms Chamber Music recital presented the admirable Roger Vignoles in the company of two young singers, Kate Royal and Christine Rice, in a programme devised by him.

It was with Purcell that the concert began. “Let us wander not unseen”, which immediately made one aware of how well the two voices blended. That glorious duet “Sound the trumpet”, from “Come Ye Sons of Art”, begins with its initial words sung by the higher voice, immediately followed by the lower one copying it before they intertwine in intricate patterns. The voices were different enough to avoid confusion.

Had I been listening on the radio I would have been annoyed by announcer Stephanie Hughes’s failure to give the title of each of the Mendelssohn pieces. What’s the difficulty? Particularly soothing was the quiet singing of “Volkslied”, a German translation of Robert Burns’s “O wert thou in the cauld blast”.

French replaced German in the Gounod and Chausson items. The former’s “D’un coeur qui t’aime”, the object of the love being God, allowed each voice to sing separately for longer stretches than the other songs. Smooth vocalism meant that the line was clean, and the tone, seamless and enveloping, was attractive. “Fleur des bois”, praising the daisy above other flowers (I can’t think why), moved more quickly: in a short interview Roger Vignoles described it as rather silly. Lusher harmonies came in the two Chausson songs, and her Rice and Royal vocally wallowed in “the perfume in the air”, as “La nuit” puts it.

Finally Brahms, and it was with Die Schwestern” that the group began. The two sisters look alike, dress alike and both have nut-brown hair; unfortunately, the love the same man. It is what one would call a ‘fun piece’, lightly and amusingly put across, and the Misses Royal and Rice do have brown hair of a similar hue, unlike Angelika Kirchschlager and the blonde Barbara Bonney when they sang it at the Barbican. The other Brahms duets received their due from all three performers, with the final item, “Walpurgisnacht”, being the most dramatic, in that the soprano daughter asks her mezzo mother about witches, only to discover why her mother’s broomstick was not at home during the previous night. It was Grace Bumbry who said that mezzos sang bitches and witches: Christine Rice was enjoying it.

The blending of the voices was pleasing throughout, the singers’ synchronisation accurate. I do find that duets in the field of song generally allow less chance for interpretation and individual nuancing than solos, but this recital provided a very enjoyable hour. Roger Vignoles is one of Britain’s senior accompanists and one of the best, and this BBC prom benefited from his playing as from the ladies’ singing.

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