Samling Showcase, Wigmore Hall

For this delightful programme of song,
five of the outstanding young musicians who have been nurtured by the
organisation came together with Samling’s patron, Sir Thomas Allen, and
pianist Malcolm Martineau, for an evening of individual and collective
music-making which certainly reached inspired heights of excellence and

Mezzo-soprano Rachel Kelly was given the tough task of opening this annual
Showcase, the first half of which explored the song repertoire of the
mid-nineteenth to early-twentieth centuries; and she added to the challenge by
beginning with Richard Strauss’s ‘Ruhe, Meine Seele!’ (Rest my soul), its
slow, mysteriously unfolding opening requiring considerable composure and
control. Kelly’s warm-toned soprano was co well-centred, and the ambiguous
chromatic progressions skilfully negotiated, although as the song progressed
she adopted a wider vibrato which — while it enriched the timbre, without
disturbing the intonation — I found a little distracting. She used the rising
register towards the close of the song to inject a note of anger and the
heightened drama was enhanced by pianist James Sherlock’s impassioned
accompanying gestures. This air of turbulence continued in the second of
Strauss’s Op.21 songs, ‘C‰cilie’, which was composed on 9th
September 1894, the day before his marriage to the soprano Pauline de Ahna.
Here, Kelly showed that she has a powerful upper register (perhaps even overly
forceful at times) to match her rich low resonance.

Fervent Strauss was followed by Verdian joyful doting, as tenor Joshua Owen
Mills presented a vibrant rendition of Fenton’s ‘Dal labbro il canto
estasiato vola’ (From my lips, a song of ecstasy flies) from
Falstaff, in which the enamoured Fenton arrives at the oak tree and
sings of his happiness. Accompanied by Malcolm Martineau, Owen Mills displayed
a fine Italianate ring which perfectly complemented the textual sonnet’s many
references to music and singing. The tenor balanced a bright gleam with
tenderness. Fenton’s final line (Lips that are kissed lose none of their
allure) drew forth onto the platform soprano Lucy Hall, his Nannetta, who
responded warmly: ‘Indeed, they renew it, like the moon’. Hall then
transported us to late nineteenth-century France, with Debussy’s ‘La
Romance d’Ariel’. The lucidity of Sherlock’s piano introduction was
bewitching and Hall showed plenty of courage in tackling the stratospheric
surprises that Debussy throws in, although the intonation sometimes wandered at
the top. And, if the tone was not always sufficiently silky, there was plenty
of dramatic feeling and Hall demonstrated an innate, sure sense of phrase
structure. She was more at home in the ensuing number, Poulenc’s ‘Le petit
garÁon trop bien portant’ (The too-healthy little boy) in which her voice
took on a more soubrette-ish quality which successfully conveyed the song’s
dry humour.

A ‘double duet’ followed — Schumann’s ‘Blaue Augen hat das
M‰dchen’ (The girl has blue eyes) from the Spanische Liebeslieder
— in which Owen Mills’ buoyant tenor blended beautifully with Ross
Ramgobin’s burnished baritone to convey the exuberance of youthful joy and
love; pianists Sherlock and Martineau enjoyed the spritely rhythms of the
accompaniment. Ramgobin has an elegant, full baritone and his rendition of
‘Wandrers Nachtlied I’ (Wanderer’s nightsong I), the first of three songs
by Schubert, had a gentle ease and well-shaped sense of line. In ‘Am
Strome’ (By the river), a subtle employment of rubato and tender diminuendo
in the final verse movingly conveyed the protagonist’s yearning ‘for kinder
shores’, while Sherlock’s short piano postlude offered some a hint of
warmth and consolation. ‘Sehnsucht’ (Longing) was underpinned by the quiet
but troubled throbbing of the repeating piano motif, the vocal line once again
communicating clear emotions and meaning, thanks to Ramgobin’s astute
appreciation of structure and line.

After these performances by the Samling scholars, it was Sir Thomas
Allen’s own turn to take to the platform in four songs from Arthur
Somervell’s infrequently heard narrative song-cycle, Maud, which is
based upon Tennyson’s eponymous monodrama. Allen’s tone was varied, by
turns shadowy and light, in response to the textual sentiments, and while the
intonation was not always absolutely true at the top of the voice, the
baritone’s power to move remains undiminished, and he conjured a sentimental
mood, especially in the final song, ‘O that ‘twere possible’, whose very
brevity enhanced the pathos. Allen was joined by Rachel Kelly in the final item
of the first half, two duet arrangements from Mahler’s Des Knaben
. ‘Verlorne M¸h’ (Wasted effort) raised a wry smile, as
Allen’s dismissed Kelly’s romantic pleading, ‘N‰rrisches Dinterie,/ Ich
geh dir halt nit’ (Foolish girl,/ I’ll not go with you); Sherlock’s
accompaniment deepened the caricature, as Kelly’s wheedling and luring became
ever more brazen and Allen’s brush-offs increasingly brusque. ‘Trost im
Ungl¸ck’ (Consolation in sorrow), in which a hussar and his beloved engage
in a noisy, belligerent exchange, brought the first half to a close in
fractious fashion!

If there had been a slight sense of nervous excitement in the initial
sequence of songs, the mood relaxed after the interval. Owen Mills rose to the
challenges of Liszt’s dramatic ‘Benedetto sia ‘l giorno’ (Blessed be
the day) and the composer’s more reflective ‘I’ vidi in terra angelici
costumi’ (I beheld on earth angelic grace) from Tre Sonetti di
, and if sometimes the voice was a little tight in the fortissimo
passages at the top, the tenor displayed a pleasing light head voice; the
conclusion to the latter song evoked a mood of quiet reverie, which was
enhanced further by Sherlock’s tender rippling postlude chords. Ramgobin’s
performance of Wagner’s ‘Wie Todesahnung … O du ein holder Abendstern’
from Tannh‰user was one of the highlights of the evening, full of
colour and interest, and sung with a warm, honeyed tone.

Joined by Owen Mills (as Count Belfiore), Lucy Hall was a beguiling
Marchioness Violante Onesti (disguised as the gardener, Sandrina) in ‘Dove
mai son!’ (Wherever can I be!) from La finta giardiniera, her voice
blooming beautifully. The virtuosic runs of Rossini’s ‘Bel raggio
lusinghier’ from Semiramide caused Rachel Kelly no problem, as she
demonstrated great flexibility and striking power, although at times there was
a flinty edge to the tone. Expressive recitative and an eloquent piano
introduction by Martineau preceded Hall’s sorrowful ‘Oh! quante volte’
(Oh! how much time) from Bellini’s I Capuleti e i Monthecchi, which
was notable for the soprano’s soft tone and pliant phrasing. To conclude, all
four singers came together for a spirited performance of the final quartet from
Rigoletto, ‘Bella figlia dell’amore’, in which the intricacy of
the varied musical perspectives and changing relationships was masterfully
crafted. Bernstein’s ‘Make Our Garden Grow’ was a stirring, radiant
encore to a rousing evening of shared music-making.

Claire Seymour

Performers and programme:

Samling Scholars: Lucy Hall soprano, Rachel Kelly mezzo-soprano,
Joshua Owen Mills tenor, Ross Ramgobin baritone, James Sherlock piano; Sir
Thomas Allen baritone; Malcolm Martineau piano.

Richard Strauss: ‘Ruhe, meine Seele’, ‘C‰cilie’; Verdi:
‘Dal labbro il canto estasiato vola’ from Falstaff, ‘Bella
figlia dell’amore’ from Rigoletto; Debussy, ‘La Romance
d’Ariel’; Poulenc, ‘Le petit garÁon trop’ bien portant’; Schumann
‘Blaue Augen hat das M‰dchen’ from Spanische Liebeslieder;
Schubert, ‘Wandrers Nachtlied I’, ‘Am Strome’, ‘Sehnsucht’ ; Arthur
Somervell, Four Songs from Maud; Mahler. ‘Verlorne M¸h’, ‘Trost
im Ungl¸ck’ from Des Knaben Wunderhorn; Liszt, ‘Benedetto sia
‘l giorno’, ‘I’ vidi in terra angelici costumi’ from Tre Sonetti
di Petrarca
; Wagner, ‘Wie Todesahnung … O du ein holder Abendstern’
from Tannh‰user; Mozart, ‘Dove mai son!’ from La finta
; Rossini, ‘Bel raggio lusinghier’ from
Semiramide; Bellini, ‘Oh! quante volte’ from I Capuleti e i
. Wigmore Hall, London, Wednesday 12th November 2014.

image_description=Sir Thomas Allen [Photo by Sussie Ahlburg courtesy of Askonas Holt]
product_title=Samling Showcase
product_by=A review by Claire Seymour
product_id=Above: Sir Thomas Allen [Photo by Sussie Ahlburg courtesy of Askonas Holt]