Renata Pokupić, Wigmore Hall

Ranging far from the coloratura repertoire with which she has primarily made
her name in the opera house, Pokupić was perhaps more comfortable with
the impassioned folk sentiments of Dvoř·k’s Cig·nskÈ melodie (Gypsy
Songs) and the flamboyance of Weill’s songs from Marie Galante than with
the poised control of Schubert’s late lieder or the expressive nuances of
Enescu’s settings of ClÈment Marot; but, supported by the typically
accomplished accompaniments of Roger Vignoles, she presented an engaging
sequence of song to a receptive audience.

The opening four Schubert songs, all composed during the last two or three
years of the composer’s death in 1828, reveal the extraordinary diversity
that Schubert achieved within the small form. Drawn and translated by Edward
von Bauemfeld from Shakespeare’s The Two Gentlemen of Verona, ‘An
Silvia’ is a sweet serenade to the eponymous protagonist. Adopting a
tender, reflective tone Popukić revealed flashes of glimmering
brightness, as the narrator remarked nature’s adoration of Silvia’s
powers – “the wide fields praise her” and “Her gentle
child-like charm refreshes”. Unfortunately, ‘Im Abendrot’
(‘Sunset glow’) and ‘Die Junge Nonne’ (‘The young
nun’) were marred by some insecure intonation and melodic uncertainty;
Popukić particularly struggled to control sustained pitches and confined
melodic contours. Moreover, though the larger dramatic canvas of the final song
suited the mezzo soprano’s temperament, a fittingly vigorous outburst as
the nun rejoices in her transfiguring love for her God – “The
loving bride awaits the bridegroom,/purified by testing fire -/ wedded to
eternal love” – revealed plenty of power and fire, but also some
unpleasant pushing of the voice at the expressive climax.

Roger Vignoles is a master of the judicious accompaniment, creating
consistent, understated textures from which significant bass figures, telling
melodic motifs and pointed expressive gestures sleekly arise to effortlessly
assert themselves and then surreptitiously fade, always in expressive service
of the text or diplomatically responding to the singer’s needs. This was
most powerfully evident in the Schubert songs. Thus, the gentle
‘strumming’ of ‘An Silvia’ was momentarily enlivened by
melodic echoes of, and dialogue with, the voice, all the while underpinned by
the springing dotted rhythms of the leaping bass. And, appreciative of the way
these ‘miniature’ forms can contain significant emotional depths
and range, and alert to the overall structure and drama, he expertly controlled
the rubato and brief but affective alternation of major and minor tonalities in
the penultimate stanza of ‘Im Fr¸hling’, restoring the settled
ambience at the close. Sweeping, arpeggiated chords radiated the warm, golden
gleam of the glowing sun in ‘Im Abendrot’, then gave way to the
‘raging storm’ – conveyed by an energised, oscillating bass, trembling beneath clanging
treble cloister bells – in ‘Die junge Nonne’.

A more centred vocal line, amid adventurous harmonic progressions, was
achieved in the ardent ‘Estrene ‡ Anne’ (‘A gift for
Anne’), which began the sequence of five songs from the Romanian George
Enescu’s Sept Chanson de ClÈment Marot. Popukić effectively
negotiated the rather archaic French texts and demonstrated much feeling for
textual meaning and nuance, particularly in ‘Languir me fais’
(‘You make me pine’), where Vignoles’ elegant piano
introduction adeptly established the reflective mood. She enjoyed the wit of
‘Aux damoyselles paresseuses d’escrit ‡ leurs amys’
(‘To young ladies too lazy to write to their friends’), pianist and
singer crafting an adroitly calculated, insouciant reading.
Popukić’s delightfully rich lower register was much in evidence in
‘Changeons propos, c’est trop chantÈ d’amours’
(‘Let’s change the subject, enough of lauding love’), an
unsentimental drinking song which galloped and then collapsed in a inebriated
conclusion in praise of liquor and its celebrants, Bacchus and Silenus, who:
“drank standing bolt upright;/ then he would dance,/ and bruise himself/
his nose was as red as a cherry;/ Many are those descended from his

The second half of the recital found Popukić in her more natural
element, whether embodying the bohemian personae of Dvoř·k’s folk
songs, which tell of the joys and hardships of gypsy life, or enjoying the
cabaret lilt of Weill’s songs for Jacques DÈval’s play, Marie
. Popukić proved herself capable of shaping and controlling
wide-ranging melodic arcs and leaping between registers, and of communicating
extremes and contrasts of emotion, in the Cig·nskÈ melodie. An intense gravity
characterised ‘My song resounds with love to me again’, as the
narrator experiences both joy and loss, “when I am glad that, freed from
misery/ my brother dies”; and deep melancholy underpinned ‘And the
wood’s silent all around’, despite the warm major harmonies.
Similarly, the arching melodic phrases of ‘Songs my mother taught
me’, beautifully fashioned by Popukić with lustrous tone and
enriched by the piano’s decorative ornamental motifs and propelling
syncopations, presented a poignant blend of contradictory sentiments. A wilder
more festive mood was created in the following two dances, ‘The strings
are tuned, my lad’, and ‘Wide sleeves and loose trousers’, as
Popukić at last fully relaxed, relishing the nonchalant fluctuations of
pace and the unrestrained celebrations of freedom and music.

In Weill’s tango-inspired ‘Youkali’, Popukić
unleashed a sultry low register and suave lyricism, saving a dulcet floating
colour for the closing phrase as the narrator reflects that, whatever tedium we
must endure in life, the human soul seeks escape, “oblivion
everywhere”: “to find the mystery,/ where our dreams are buried/ in
some Youkali.” The melodramatic grotesquery of ‘Le grand
Lustucru’ (‘The Great Bogeyman’) and the extravagant dramatic
sentiments of ‘J’attends un navire’ (‘I wait for a
ship’) allowed Popukić to indulge her theatrical instincts,
bringing the recital to an energetic and highly entertaining conclusion.

Claire Seymour


Franz Schubert: ‘An Silvia’ D891; ‘Im Fr¸hling’
D882; ‘Im Abendrot’ D799; ‘Die junge Nonne’ D828.

George Enescu: Songs from Sept chanson de ClÈment Marot Op.15

AntonÌn Dvoř·k: Cig·nskÈ melodie (Gypsy Songs) Op.55

Kurt Weill: Songs from Marie Galante

image_description=Renata Pokupić [Photo by Chris Gloag courtesy of Intermusica]
product_title=Renata Pokupić, Wigmore Hall
product_by=Mezzo-soprano: Renata Pokupić; Piano: Roger Vignoles. Wigmore Hall, London, Monday 17th October 2011.
product_id=Above: Renata Pokupić [Photo by Chris Gloag courtesy of Intermusica]