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Seen and Heard Recital Review
Barbara Bonney and Angelika Kirschlager : Duets - with Malcolm Martineau (piano), Symphony Hall, Birmingham, December 11th (BK)
Mendelssohn: Duets Op 63
Schumann:Three Spanish Duets from Op 74
A perfect evening from these undoubted stars and their consummate accompanist, this recital was well worth the seven hour round trip I made to hear it. I'd do it again tomorrow (and gladly) for a repeat performance.
Following on from their recent Sony CD First Encounter which contains a programme similar to this recital, the singers are currently touring Europe with concerts at the Barbican in London at the end of January, and also at the Salzburg Mozarteum. Go to hear them at all costs, because this is as fine a demonstration of duet singing as anyone could wish for. It's an evening of wistful pathos, joy and humour in equal measures and had I not already chosen my memorable musical events for this year, then this recital would have been near the top of the list.
It goes without saying that Barbara Bonney and Angelika Kirschlager are superb singers individually, but put them together and true synergy happens. Their contrasting voices blend seamlessly and tone, phrasing, dynamics and mood are all matched to a tee. It is also clear that both of them are really enjoying the music and their joint communication with the audience. Add in Mr Martineau's expert contribution and the whole thing becomes so good natured that listeners feel part of the event for once. Remarkable artistry all round.
The recital is good value too for the numbers of items contained and also as an exploration of different types of duetting. The first of the three Mendelssohn pieces, Ich wollt' meine Lieb ergosse sich, for example is almost entirely in unison so that the voices rarely part company. The second, Abschiedslied der Zugvögel, also mostly in unison, alternates the sadness of its outer verses in G minor, with the rapt nostalgia of the E flat major of its middle verse. By contrast, the third piece, Maiglöckchen und die Blümelein, is joyful and the voices are in harmony as the lily (literally the May Bell) leads the vanguard in the flowers' resistance to Jack Frost.
Of the many gems in the programme, I particularly enjoyed the Saint Säens Pastorale (some more birdsong in the first verse contrasted with the murmuring brook of the second,) Chausson's dark hued and languorous La Nuit and Rossini's rollicking La regata Veneziana. This is one of Rossini's celebrated 'péchés de vieillesse' in which the singers act as cheerleaders for the competing men. Full of humour and with the piano part representing the slapping of oars on the water, the piece showed off the singers friendly yet affectionate competitiveness as they each 'cheered' louder for their favourites. Good fun.
The recital ended with Dvorák's Moravian Duets Op 32, thirteen contrasting short pieces sung in the German translation, for which the composer had enlisted the help of Brahms in finding a publisher. As a consequence of Brahms' influence, the publisher Simrock launched not only these Op 32 duets (as Klänge aus Mähren - Sounds of Moravia) but also commissioned the eight Slavonic Dances Op 46 which brought Dvorák to lasting fame. The duets (which all have original themes and are not based of recognised folk-tunes) are delightful examples of all of the composer's moods, poignant, rapturous or excitable by turns. They showed off the duettists' abilities splendidly.
Of the two encores demanded by the
captivated audience, Brahms' Die Schwestern, another tale
of rivalry between two sisters who look alike, dress alike and even
sleep in the same bed very nearly brought the house down. The sisters
agree about everything of course - at least until they both fall for
the same man. When blonde Ms Bonney patted the 'nut-brown hair'
she supposedly shared with Ms Kirschlager, the audience was
next door to cheering. A wonderful moment in a truly memorable recital.
CD: First Encounter Barbara Bonney and Angelika Kirschlager with Macolm Martineau. Sony Classical SK93133