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Mezzos from RAM

Schubert, Duparc, Fauré, Debussy, Poldowski, Elgar, Quilter, Head & Corp


Catherine Hopper – mezzo soprano

John Reid - piano


St John’s, Smith Square

02 April 2009

Schubert: Suleika; Lachen und Weinen; Gretchen am Spinnrade; Die Manner sind mechant

Duparc: L’invitation au voyage; Romance de Mignon

Fauré: Mandoline; Clair de lune

Debussy: C’est l’extase

Poldowski: En sourdine

Elgar: Where Corals Lie

Quilter: By a Fountainside

Head: the Estuary

Corp: The Bath


This lunchtime concert proved to be a full 3-course affair with traditional fare well balanced by dashes of more exotic flavourings to enliven the oral taste buds.


Schubert lieder is always a safe starter, but today it was presented with a twist.  Suleika is too substantial a morsel to be accurately described as an “amuse bouche” but it’s enough of a rarity to perform much the same function, demanding attention, and certainly heard at its best with a mezzo voice.  Proceedings continued with a lively account of Lachen und Weinen  (Laughter and tears) and Gretchen kept the wheel turning in the lead up to a robust declaration that Men are rogues!


In line with today’s low calorie, low cholesterol preferences, French chanson makes a perfect centre, with the staples of Duparc, Fauré and Debussy predominating.  The touch of magic, which raised this recital to gourmet standards, was Poldowski’s account of Paul Verlaine’s En sourdine.   It’s his most popular poem with composers, Debussy, Fauré, Hahn, to name but the front runners, but this interpretation combines the calm of twilight with seriously enraptured senses before retreating once more to permit the nightingale a final triumph.


Bring on the desert – and Elgar’s Where Corals Lie, low and voluptuous in the mezzo range must certainly be classified in the chocolate to die for category, and perhaps making the audience think “where do we go from here?”.  Quilter is always calming, and Michael Head is one of my personal favourite composers.  I hadn’t heard The Estuary before and although Ruth Pitter’s poem seems to be a bit derivative of Malcolm Arnold, it was fitting enough.


The finale was Ronald Corp’s The Bath as insubstantial as a few bubbles topping a sponge which is lost in the proceedings.  Catherine Hopper is a singer with a firm control of all these offerings, ably assisted by her pianist, John Reid. 


If this were a foodie review I would award 4 stars.



Mahler, Brahms, Ravel and Schumann

Adriana Festeu – mezzo soprano

Corinthian Chamber Orchestra, cond Jason Lai


St James’s, Piccadilly

27 March 2009

Mahler: Kindertotenlieder

Brahms: Tragic Overture

Ravel: Pavane pur unde Infante defunte

Schumann: Symphony No 3 ‘Rhenish’


My other concert of the week featured another mezzo-soprano, coincidentally both trained at RAM, and both names to look out for in the future. 


Kindertotenlieder is nothing less than a musical interpretation of a mother’s anguish at the death of her child.  It’s a tough call for a singer of any age, especially a young one.   Not only is the emotional baggage weighty, but the score lies low in the register and virtually throughout it is marked pianissimo, and yet the voice needs to ride the orchestra – in this case a full sized one, despite the “chamber” in its title.


With an amateur orchestra playing with considerable gusto there was certainly an imbalance in the volume, but I was nonetheless impressed with Adriana Festeu’s sensitive account.  There was a gorgeous warmth in her voice and involvement in her performance.  The body language was all there and she pushed herself to her exact emotional limit – there was never a waver in her voice but I am sure I saw her brush a tear from her eye as she quit the platform.  Her audience were left nearer to the edge – a significant achievement.


The rest of this rather sombre concert could only be an anticlimax.  I’m never convinced by Brahms’ Tragic Overture, the composer’s natural ebullience breaks through too often, but the Ravel was beautifully done, with all the control and natural elegance that the piece demands – full marks to conductor Jason Lai.  I half expected, and would have preferred, them to finish with Schubert’s Tragic (4th) Symphony but the Schumann was fine if unexciting.



Serena Fenwick