Editor: Marc Bridle


Webmaster: Len Mullenger





WWW MusicWeb

Search Music Web with FreeFind

Any Review or Article



  Seen and Heard Recital Review


Mahler, Das Lied von der Erde : Oscar Strasnoy, Six Songs for the Unquiet Traveller (World Premiere, commissioned by the Wigmore Hall) Ann Murray, Steve Davislim, Nash Ensemble conducted by Paul Kildea – Opening Concert of the 2004/5 season, Saturday October 9th 2004 (ME)


Tart’s Boudoir, darlings, with Luvvie-Lighting (that is, so dim that it positively flatters one’s wrinkles) Morello (or should that be Bordello?) Cherry carpet throughout, Bug-Zapper blue lights inside the mural’s semi-cupola (apparently there to diffuse the light – what light?) new seats, so far as I could tell in exactly the same positions as the old ones, excellent air-conditioning and three (wow!) new Ladies’ loos. There, the new auditorium was all you really wanted to know about, wasn’t it? Yes, it’s great to sit in a seat that’s not falling over, and even better to sit in comfort and not swelter, but I’m less frappé with the feeling that each time I descend the stairs I am entering a set for yet another louche production of Fledermaus. Oh, and I almost forgot the new lights: never one to admit defeat in the ‘words fit to paint’ department, I duly scoured the old grey matter and have come up with ‘five instruments of gynaecological torture sprouting from instalments of The Stations of the Cross.’ Just put your legs in these stirrups... however, I am reliably informed that these horrors are based on ‘the originals’ and one must assume that the same goes for the carpeting – and the bare walls, so sadly denuded of their wonderful collection of early programmes?


To begin a whole season with a newly commissioned work is a wonderful thing to do: it sends the right message of renewal, of daring and of enterprise, and you can’t help but approve of the hall’s musical director for doing it, but the work itself was hardly substantial, and allowing himself the indulgence of conducting may not have been Mr. Kildea’s wisest course of action. ‘Six Songs for the Unquiet Traveller’ is a sequence of poems by Alberto Manguel, set by Oscar Strasnoy, sung by Ann Murray with the Nash Ensemble. The music is pleasant, not lacking in a certain charm and quite lyrical in places, but the problem is the poems: true, Schubert often set the work of poetasters, but his music had the power to transform it – here, we had the sort of effusions which a 17 year old might pen in response to a first reading of T.S. Eliot, set to pleasant and forgettable composition. Maybe I’m just not picking up on whimsy, but the rest of the audience also seemed less than enthusiastic. Ann Murray was not well served by the piece, the setting of words like ‘afternoons’ not being flattering to this style of vocal production – and what did the last piece have to do with ‘her outstanding background as a singer of Handel?’


That Dame Ann is, or was, one of the great ones in terms of Handel singing, is completely indisputable (her unforgettable Xerxes springs to mind) but I was surprised at Mr Kildea’s eulogizing of her as a ‘great Mahlerian’ and as a singer now at the height of her powers: when a singer is 55, it might be more appropriate to sense a voice in the autumn of its life, and that is indeed what it is – still a fine instrument, and still used with great taste and skill, but no longer in its prime. ‘Das Lied von der Erde’ had some wonderful moments, but there was also quite a lot that was under-sung, and the patchy ensemble work did not help much.


Giving the work in the chamber version was another laudable step: Mahler’s famous statement to Richard Strauss that ‘Only a small hall’ would be desirable for his songs which ‘would be performed in the manner of chamber music’ is of course apt for the Wigmore, and this performance did indeed allow us to hear some wonderfully intimate instrumental moments of a kind so often lost in the massive performances we usually experience, and the scaled-down sonorities did serve to highlight many of the vocal lines. However, some of the playing was uncharacteristically jarring, especially from the woodwind, although the strings were eloquent, and the singing was not at the very highest level.


Steve Davislim was new to me on this occasion, and he’s full of promise: this is a genuinely engaging singer with a big, heroic voice and plenty behind it, especially in lines such as ‘ist mehr wert, als alle reiche dieser Erde!’ but despite the heft, his tone tended to sag at times as well as hardening under pressure, especially at the close of longer lines. Nerves, perhaps, and I’d certainly like to hear him again, perhaps in a role like Lensky, for which he seems to have all the necessary qualities: he held the attention at ‘Das Firmament blaut ewig’ as few singers can. Dame Ann was similarly variable in her singing: she captured exactly the right note of transfigured bliss at ‘Ich komm’ zu dir, traute, Ruhestätte!’ and ‘Sonne der Liebe’ showed a real mastery of vocal colour, but ‘Der Abschied’ was curiously detached in parts: there was quite a bit of awkwardness in the orchestra here, too, sadly contrasting with the glorious tone which the strings had produced in the first song.


Wigmore first nights have often been a little awkward in the recent past, and this one was no exception, but as those last repetitions of ‘Ewig… ewig’ faded away, there was again a sense that this was a symbolically right work for the occasion: the hall may have changed, but the fundamental importance of what is offered in this special place will always be there for us, constantly renewed by those who interpret it.


Melanie Eskenazi

Back to the Top     Back to the Index Page






MusicWeb - The International Web Site Founder: Len Mullenger [UK], Classical Editor: Rob Barnett [UK],  Regular Reviewers:   Steve Arloff [UK], Guy Aron [Australia], Tony Augarde [UK], Terry Barfoot [UK], Melinda Bargreen [USA], David J. Barker [Australia], Rob Barnett [UK], Nick Barnard [UK], Robert Beattie [UK], Dave Billinge [UK], Peter Bright [UK], Byzantion [UK], Colin Clarke [UK], Dominy Clements [Netherlands], Michael Cookson [UK], Hubert Culot [Belgium], Evan Dickerson [UK], Gavin Dixon [UK], Robert J. Farr [UK], Christopher Fifield [UK], Göran Forsling [Sweden], John France [UK], Patrick Gary [USA], Pierre Giroux [CAN], Paul C. Godfrey [UK], Michael Greenhalgh [UK], William Hedley [France], Gary Higginson [UK], Neil Horner [UK], Robert Hugill UK], David Jennings [UK], Bill Kenny [UK], William S Kreindler [USA], Ian Lace [UK], Em Marshall-Luck [UK], Oleg Ledeniov [USA]Rob Maynard [UK], David A McConnell [USA], Kirk McElhearn [France], Robert McKechnie [UK], Ralph Moore [RMo] [UK], Dan Morgan [UK], Margarida Mota-Bull [UK], Glyn Pursglove [UK], John Quinn [UK], Carla Rees [UK], Brian Reinhart [USA], Donald Satz [USA], Mark Sealey [USA], John Sheppard [UK], George Stacy, Kevin Sutton [USA], Bert Thompson [USA], Simon Thompson [UK], Zane Turner [Australia], Steve Vasta [UK], Johan van Veen [Netherlands], Raymond Walker [UK], Derek Warby [UK], Brian Wilson [UK], Jonathan Woolf [UK] Leslie Wright [USA]. A complete list of contributors can be seen here


Making a Donation to MusicWeb

Writing CD reviews for MWI

About MWI
Who we are, where we have come from and how we do it.

Site Map

How to find a review

How to find articles on MusicWeb
Listed in date order

Review Indexes
   By Label
      Select a label and all reviews are listed in Catalogue order
   By Masterwork
            Links from composer names (eg Sibelius) are to resource pages with links to the review indexes for the individual works as well as other resources.

Themed Review pages

Jazz reviews


      Composer surveys
      Unique to MusicWeb -
a comprehensive listing of all LP and CD recordings of given works
Prepared by Michael Herman

Book Reviews

Complete Books
We have a number of out of print complete books on-line

With Composers, Conductors, Singers, Instumentalists and others
Includes those on the Seen and Heard site


Nostalgia CD reviews

Records Of The Year
Each reviewer is given the opportunity to select the best of the releases

Monthly Best Buys
Recordings of the Month and Bargains of the Month

Arthur Butterworth Writes

An occasional column

Phil Scowcroft's Garlands
British Light Music articles

Classical blogs
A listing of Classical Music Blogs external to MusicWeb International

Reviewers Logs
What they have been listening to for pleasure



Bulletin Board

Give your opinions or seek answers

Past and present

Helpers invited!

How Did I Miss That?

Currently suspended but there are a lot there with sound clips

Composer Resources

British Composers

British Light Music Composers

Other composers

Film Music (Archive)
Film Music on the Web (Closed in December 2006)

Programme Notes
For concert organizers

External sites
British Music Society
The BBC Proms
Orchestra Sites
Recording Companies & Retailers
Online Music
Agents & Marketing
Other links
Web News sites etc

A pot-pourri of articles

MW Listening Room
MW Office

Advice to Windows Vista users  
Site History  
What they say about us
What we say about us!
Where to get help on the Internet
CD orders By Special Request
Graphics archive
Currency Converter
Web Ring
Translation Service

Rules for potential reviewers :-)
Do Not Go Here!
April Fools

MusicWeb International thank Naxos for the no-strings use of their server to mount the website.