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S & H Recital Review

An Evening of German Song ENO Jerwood Young Singers
Beethoven, Schubert, Brahms, Strauss Lieder and Vocal Quartets
Mary Nelson soprano Alison Roddy soprano Claire Weston soprano Victoria Simmonds mezzo soprano Andrew Rees tenor Frederik Strid tenor Leslie John Flanagan baritone Leigh Melrose baritone Toby Stafford-Allen baritone Barry Martin bass
Wolfram Rieger piano Wigmore Hall, 19 December 2001 (PGW)

This Evening of German Song was an end of term party to showcase English National Opera's Jerwood Young Singers Programme, a marvellous project based upon USA models, still unique in UK. Eight young singers of proven excellence are pursuing intensive, individualised training under ENO auspices for up to three years, the programme integrated into the working life of the Coliseum. This concert was the culmination of a series of private Master Classes with Wolfram Rieger, with the German language coaching under Hildburg Williams.

It was not a competition, and criticism of individual singers in their brief solo spots would be inappropriate. Before the interval, Rieger was still very much in the driving seat, rather as if the master class was still continuing. He is a totally equipped virtuoso pianist with a broad, imaginative knowledge of the lieder repertoire, so much so that in Schubert especially he was constantly making points, whether in phrasing, extremes of rubato, often urging the tempo forward and an enviable, orchestral command of dynamics and tonal palate. The next stage in their maturation will be for these singers to 'seize' their songs and claim them as their own. The lessons with Rieger will have stretched their musical imaginations wonderfully - next they may need to bear in mind Menuhin's teaching maxim, which was to explore expressive possibilities to the utmost during study, and then for performance refine them back to a level which falls short of exaggeration.

The standard of singing was impressively high, and its scale well adapted to the supportive and flattering Wigmore Hall acoustic. A few of the eight still need to work a little more on their German diction and one or two of them showed some tension as a little vocal strain at first, but everyone relaxed and after the interval the very interesting Strauss selection went particularly well, with a more equal partnership between singers and pianist. We heard the quirky Ophelia songs Op 67 and the sly, witty Schlagende Herzen Op 29/2; the introduction to the exemplary programme book, with all words and translations, of course, told us about Strauss's eccentric singer wife Pauline, for whom they were written, and who was not averse to upstaging her husband by inviting applause whilst he was still involved in a complex piano postlude! No risk, nor possibility, of Wolfram Rieger finding himself upstaged at the Wigmore Hall.

We will be looking out for these singers on the opera stage - hoping that the vast Coliseum will not tend to coarsen their singing. Some too-little known quartets by Schubert and Schumann framed the two halves of the programme ideally, before a Schubert encore which involved everybody.

With Malcolm Martineau on top form with Magdalena Kožená a few days before, this had been an exceptional week to savour the art of song accompanying at its highest, and the evening really belonged to Wolfram Rieger as pianist and artistic facilitator of an evening which left the audience happy and invigorated before returning to the Oxford Street pre-Christmas melée outside.

Peter Grahame Woolf

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