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Seen and Heard Recital Review



Beethoven, Adelaide; Britten, ‘Winter words’; Brahms, Lieder to poems by Daumer: Robert Murray (tenor) Lindy Tennent-Brown (piano), Wigmore Hall, 16.10. 2005 (ME)



Four years ago I attended a superb production of ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ at the Royal College of Music, and in my review I predicted future fame for many of the young singers in the cast, including Jonathan Lemalu and Andrew Kennedy: the singer of the relatively small role of Flute / Thisbe also came in for high praise, and I was not surprised to find that in the following year I was able to give him a glowing review for a major role, that of Albert Herring. The singer in question was Robert Murray, who went on to win second prize in the 2003 Ferrier awards, and who is now a Jette Parker Young Artist at the ROH. This was his Wigmore Series debut, and although I appeared to be the only critic there, the presence of Bill Lyne and other luminaries was indicative of the fact that this promised to be a recital worth attending.

Murray and his accompanist, the much praised Lindy Tennent-Brown, began an ambitious programme as they meant to go on: Adelaide is not only so well known that any performance in this hall will immediately have audience members making comparisons with four or five others, probably commencing with Björling, but much more difficult to sing and play than it might seem. For an opening song, this was a strikingly confident performance, fluent and mellow in tone as far as the piano was concerned and unusually word-sensitive on the singer’s part: ‘zittert’ was finely onomatopoeic and ‘Einst, o Wunder’ conveyed just the right sense of awe. Murray’s is one of those tenor voices which conveys a welcome sense of power in reserve, amply shown in the impassioned repetitions of ‘Adelaide!’ although at these moments the piano was too loud.

Britten’s ‘Winter words’ is equally ambitious, and although the singing was very fine, it is safe to assume that Murray’s interpretation will grow in detail as he matures. These are marvellous songs based on poems of the highest quality, and this was a direct, musical and sensitive performance of them whilst not quite conveying all that both words and music can bear. Midnight on the Great Western was perhaps the most successful, the lines ‘Towards a world unknown’ and ‘But are not of’ taking on the appropriate note of questioning austerity. There is more to The choirmaster’s burial  than Murray is at present able to convey, especially in the characterization of the vicar and the noble, restrained narrative, but the final sections of the tale were finely done, especially the haunting portrayal of the ‘band all in white.’ At the railway station, Upway showed a fluent legato and impressive management of dramatic changes in narrative, but here as elsewhere in this cycle I found the piano tone too harsh at times.

The Brahms set was a challenging group, sung in excellent German and with crisp diction, if at times needing that final surge of impassioned tone at crucial moments. The influence of Peter Schreier was strongly in evidence here, especially in Von waldbekränzer HöheMurray shares with his great inspiration the rare ability never to push to hard yet never to croon either, and the even rarer distinction of being able, even at so early a stage in his career, to use gestures that are subtle rather than overblown. Unbewegte, laue Luft achieved the desired contrasts between the calm setting of the opening lines and the increasingly impassioned conclusion. Britten’s setting of Down by the Salley Gardens formed an appropriately chosen and beautifully sung encore to a most auspicious debut.



Melanie Eskenazi


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