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Oxford Lieder Festival:  Elizabeth Watts (soprano) Roger Vignoles (piano)  Schubert, Strauss, Debussy, Rachmaninov. Holywell Music Rooms, Oxford.  22.10.2006. (ME) 


Elizabeth Watts is a young soprano in whose career I have been interested ever since I heard her in small parts at the Royal College of Music; she has since won just about every prestigious award going, including the Ferrier and the Maggie Teyte. On this occasion she was repeating a programme she had performed earlier in the week at the Wigmore Hall, here in
Oxford at very short notice after the scheduled artist, John Mark Ainsley, had withdrawn only six hours before the starting time.


Miss Watts chose as her encore Copland’s setting of Emily Dickinson’s ‘Why do they shut me out of Heaven? Did I sing too loud? which invites the reply – ‘In a word – yes.’ This is a great voice, no question – bright, supple, generous, and allied to a charming personality and winning stage presence, but it is used too operatically for so tiny a space as the Holywell Music Rooms. She is of course still very young, and in time she will find all those missing pianissimi which lend the needed subtlety to so many songs. Her Schubert group began with ‘Suleika I,’ sung with great passion and played with the most wonderful finesse by Roger Vignoles – how delicately he caressed the notes at ‘Ach, die wahre Herzenskunde / Liebeshauch, erfrischtes Leben,’ supplying the subtlety lacking in the singing. At the final line, ‘kann mir nur sein Atem geben,’ Watts did manage to scale down her tone a little but this was overall a grandly conceived interpretation. ‘Im Abendrot’ was given with sincerity, and the more ‘nicky nacky noo’ songs such as ‘Die Männer sind mechant’ showed her winning ways with an audience.


The French group was less successful – as yet she lacks the required level of languour in the manner and panache in the delivery, but  Rachmaninov suited her well: these melodramatic, full-blown pieces were sung with gutsy tone and plenty of melancholy, especially in the setting of Pushkin’s ‘Ne poy, krasavitsa, pri mne.’ A group of Strauss was well chosen to show the singer’s versatility, from the coquettish in ‘Schlechtes  Wetter’ to the passionate in ‘Breit über mein Haupt.’ ‘Ständchen’ revealed both her great qualities and her present shortcomings:  radiantly inviting throughout, her tone gleamed in every line, but the volume was relentless so that when it came to the crucial ‘Hoch glühn von den Wonnenschauern der Nacht’ she was unable to give the wanted emphasis to ‘Wonnenschauern.’ 


Nevertheless, this was an enjoyable recital, with Vignoles as ever the most sympathetic of accompanists and Miss Watts proving herself as unflappable and generous as she is talented and warm-hearted: all that is wanted is some polish in the interpretation and some subtlety in the phrasing, both no doubt soon to be acquired by this fine young singer.


Melanie Eskenazi



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Contributors: Marc Bridle (North American Editor), Martin Anderson, Patrick Burnson, Frank Cadenhead, Colin Clarke, Paul Conway, Geoff Diggines, Sarah Dunlop, Evan Dickerson Melanie Eskenazi (London Editor) Robert J Farr, Abigail Frymann, Göran Forsling, Simon Hewitt-Jones, Bruce Hodges,Tim Hodgkinson, Martin Hoyle, Bernard Jacobson, Tristan Jakob-Hoff, Ben Killeen, Bill Kenny (Regional Editor), Ian Lace, Jean Martin, John Leeman, Neil McGowan, Bettina Mara, Robin Mitchell-Boyask, Simon Morgan, Aline Nassif, Anne Ozorio, Ian Pace, John Phillips, Jim Pritchard, John Quinn, Peter Quantrill, Alex Russell, Paul Serotsky, Harvey Steiman, Christopher Thomas, John Warnaby, Hans-Theodor Wolhfahrt, Peter Grahame Woolf (Founder & Emeritus Editor)