Seen and Heard Recital Review
Clara Mouriz (mezzo) and Joseph Middleton (piano). Duke’s Hall, Royal Academy of Music, London. 14.06.2006 (ED)
Haydn:Arianna a Naxos
Vivaldi:Armatae Face et Angulibus (Judith Triumphans)
Mozart: Parto, ma tu ben mio (La Clemenza di Tito)
Rossini: Cruda Sorte! (L’Italiana in Algeri),Canzonetta Spagnuola,Addio di Rossini
Rachmaninov:3 songs from op.8
Montsalvatge:Cinco Canciones Negras
In many respects it asks a lot of a singer to open a recital with Haydn’s Arianna a Naxos. The work’s four distinct sections each require the capturing of a different mood: glorious and radiant with a fully alive voice at the opening, reflection, commanding forcefulness and desolation. That Mouriz found each in her performance was the first indication that her talent is beyond the ordinary. So strongly conceived was her embodiment of the character that at times Arianna felt on the verge of becoming a stage work, but Mouriz has no need for a stage to project drama. The wonder in her face and eyes conveyed as much as the biting attack she brought to the recitative or the emptiness plumbed a mere quarter hour into her singing, when many singers might just be getting into their stride. The final aria took emotions and notes to the edge sometimes with use of the chest voice that had real excitement about it.
Vivaldi’s Armatae Face et Angulibus continued to show Mouriz in fighting mood as she invoked the Furies with relish and urgency. Her technique proved more than up to the task of bringing off Vivaldi’s difficult prestissimo runs without sacrificing characterisation to do so. Sposa, son Disprezzata provided a distinct change of mood, calling for reflection, showing a softer side to Mouriz’ lyrical mezzo. That due time was taken by Middleton with the sensitive accompaniment emphasised that Mouriz’s breath control would have to serve her well in the aria’s long-held lines. Variations of emphasis and inflections of voice were placed on words (‘mia speranza’ – my hope) or phrases, ‘cieli che feci mai?’ - ‘Heavens, what have I done?’ to telling effect.
Mozart’s Parto, ma tu ben mio signalled the move into widely known mezzo territory, and with it Mouriz reinforced the demand for attention with a strongly announced reading given depth by her luxuriantly bronzed vocal timbre. ‘Guardami’ – look at me – first a demand, then a vulnerable request. To not respond would have been bordering on the insulting given that bars later real intimacy was established and maintained between audience and performer.
Rossini straddled the interval with the choice and ordering of repertoire suiting the purpose of well. Cruda Sorte! hands a singer with Mouriz’ musical sense of line and abilities in characterisation opportunities on a plate to ensure a rapturous reception afterwards, and she never failed to exploit them. That she toyed with the audience through her glances and half smiles as the subtle playing with rhythms betrayed her operatic experience once more. Expressive contrasts were brought to the Canzonetta Spagnuola and Addio di Rossini: in the former, the sadness given to the words was notable; the latter cast the simplicity of regret with feeling for subtle nuances of text.
Linguistically at least the Rachmaninov songs took Mouriz out of her comfort zone, though this hardly fazed her ability to project the meaning behind the words. Requiring, and receiving, a markedly different vocal timbre through a slight change in the placing of the voice the songs came to life. Not for the first time in the evening was her fondness of exploring the edge of notes across a held diminuendo exhibited, or her willingness to find tenderness in words. However the last of the songs, with a flavouring that recalled Mussorgsky, suited her best with its inward seriousness.
Montsalvatge took Mouriz firmly back to territory she knows well. Mouriz brought a world-weary look on life to these five songs to create a heady atmosphere. If her delivery brought to mind the world of a night club sing in part, Mouriz was certainly a quality one as she drew out her lyrics emphatically and painting the texts’ imagery with broad gestures. The closing Canto negro, arguably Montsalvatge’s best known song, danced with rhythmic enjoyment.
As I re-read the above I am conscious of several things. My lack of mention of Joseph Middleton’s accompaniment, for one. His ability to alight on the specific inflections in the piano line to support Mouriz and create backgrounds of presence with confidence should be noted: the urgency he brought to Montsalvatge’s Chévere or his clarity of line throughout the Haydn were good examples of this.
Secondly, what is there that I could say that is critical of Mouriz? Occasionally vowels were not ideally placed, or suffered from slight overemphasis. Her performances are so consistently dramatised with actions that after a while some might wish for a change of approach, or a break from it at very least. However, on the whole I would rather have her sense of involvement and generous personality than the complete opposite: it makes her as exciting a performer to watch as to hear.
Lastly, it would have been all too easy to fall into some critical trap whereby I compared and contrasted Clara Mouriz to other great mezzos in the repertoire she sang. Yes, she strayed onto territory claimed once by many others, as all singers must at some stage in their careers. That she showed respect to tradition and individuality enough to make the music her own is all that needs be said for her intelligence. I did not hear ‘the next Berganza, Horne or Baltsa’, but Clara Mouriz – and her artistic ascent is only just beginning.