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Seen and Heard International Recital Review
Opera January Strauss Weeks (III): Strauss, Schumann, Nyström
and Wagner: Nina Stemme (soprano) Bénédicte Haid (piano) Helsinki 21.1.2006
Finnish National Opera January Strauss Weeks (III): Strauss, Schumann, Nyström and Wagner: Nina Stemme (soprano) Bénédicte Haid (piano) Helsinki 21.1.2006 (LK)
Nina Stemme’s recital will rank as one of the high points of the operatic calendar this year. Any discussion of her remarkable voice can easily fall into the recitation of superlatives, and I don’t think I am going to be able to avoid this. It is rich, it is expressive (which is becoming unusual), it can make you aware of nuances in the text which had escaped you before… So before this begins to sound like an adulatory article in a photo magazine, I’ll move on to the music.
Beginning with a selection of five of Richard Strauss’s more popular and familiar songs, Ms Stemme’s depth of voice and power was perhaps a little too much for ‘Ständchen’ with its lightness of texture, but came into its own with the slower and more thoughtful ‘Allerseelen’ (to a text by Hermann von Gilm) and remained so for ‘Befreit’, ‘Morgen!’ and ‘Cäcilie’.
Richard Wagner’s ‘Wesendonck
Lieder’ is another familiar work which is, naturally enough,
well designed to show off Ms Stemme’s vocal abilities.
Following her superb account of Isolde at Bayreuth last
year, it came as no surprise to hear Wagner’s songs performed
with not only the usual power, but with great loveliness
– despite the somewhat unfortunate texts.
The rest of the concert
was devoted to a performance of Schumann’s ‘Frauenliebe
und Leben’ and to the very beautiful ‘Sånger vid
Havet’ by the surprisingly little-known Gösta Nyström,
a Swedish composer and artist. Nyström’s cycle of
songs, written during the Second World War is, as the
title suggests, inspired by the sea, and mixes nostalgia,
pain and resignation. The texts of the five songs are
poems by the Swedish poets, Ebba Lindqvist, Edith Södergran,
Hjalmar Gullberg and Ragnar Jändel.
For her encores Ms Stemme surprised again. Having displayed her ability to sing a range of styles equally well, and a capacity for connecting with an audience which is not often found, she moved on to sing Strauss’s ‘Zueignung’ with a steadiness and involvement which I have never heard before, and which gave this song a dignity it sometimes lacks. A second encore being demanded, she gave us Weill’s ‘Surabaya Johnny’ – something which can make me cringe when sung by an operatic voice. In this case, I wasn’t alone in being amazed by the directness and passion with which she sang the song – a truly great performance in one short piece, which in many ways encapsulated the essence of what lieder should be.
Accompanied with sensitivity and assurance by Bénédicte Haid, Ms Stemme’s superb control, mastery of her material, and ability to make contact with the audience made this a memorable experience. For those who missed their Helsinki performance they are, fortunately, in London on the 8th of March at the Wigmore Hall.