Tara Erraught: mezzo and clarinet in partnership at the Wigmore Hall

Once the slight, and forgivable, tension of the opening couple of items had
been banished, Erraught revealed a full, gleaming mezzo which was bright at
the top, honeyed in the middle and strong and characterful at the bottom.
She moved easily between and across the registers, slipping silkily through
coloratura passages, soaring warmly in more expansive episodes, and nailing
every leap, twist, turn and flourish that was required of her.

In the concert arias with obliggato clarinet, however, she was
matched, and on occasion outshone, by Pluta. A former principal
clarinettist with the Staatskapelle Dresden and guest principal with many
orchestras including the Bayerische Staatsope, Pluta’s innate musicality
was winningly beguiling.

The use of obbligato – usually wind – instruments to complement
and converse with the voice was a common practice in the oratorios and
operas of the eighteenth century. In the nineteenth century, the obbligato instrument moved from the orchestra ranks and took its
place in the concert aria and it was four of the latter that were presented

Louis Spohr’s Sechs Deutsche Lieder Op.103 were first performed in
1838; the solo part was written for the virtuoso instrumentalist Johann
Simon Hermstedt, who asked Spohr to composer the work at the request of
Princess Sondershausen. Piano and clarinet painted a bucolic mood-picture
at the opening of ‘Zwiegesang’ (Duet song), conjuring the sweet scents and
sounds of dusk: ‘In a lilac bush sat a little bird/ in the quiet, lovely
May night.’ Erraught’s German diction was precise though her diligent
attention to the text resulted at times in a lack of strong
character-painting. However, the revelation that ‘Von Fr¸hlingssonne da
Vˆglein safl/ Von Liebeswonne das M‰gdelein’ (Of spring sunshine sang the
little bird,/of love’s delight sang the young girl) was winsomely
conspiratorial in tone, and her mezzo blossomed beautifully with the last
line, ‘Vergefl ich nimmer mein Lebelang’ (I shall never forget my whole life
long). The second Op.103 song, ‘Das heimliche Lied’ (The secret song),
began with a clarinet flourish – a wincing spasm of pained lament which
Baillieu transformed magically at the close into a gentle vision of hope
and love.

Schubert’s Der Hirt auf dem Felsen played a large part in the
elevation of the obbligato to the concert platform, but the
composer’s disciples, including Franz Paul Lachner, were not slow to follow
his example. The piano’s propulsive accompaniment at the opening of
Lachner’s ‘Wach auf’ (Awaken!) were a rallying cry to live and act: ‘Was
stehst du bange/ Und sinnest nach?’ (Why do you stand there/ brooding with
fear?) sang Erraught, her dark lower register urgent and compelling. The
second of two songs from Lacher’s Frauenliebe und Leben Op.82,
‘Seit ich ihn gesehen’ (Since I saw him), was similarly fervent; here,
though, the rich and energised accompanying parts occasionally overwhelmed
the vocal line when it fell to lower realms. The instrumentalists’
wonderfully modulated rallentando at the close was beautifully

Erraught seemed to shift up a gear in Schubert’s Der Hilt auf dem Felsen, relishing the operatic dimensions of this
more substantial, and more accomplished, composition and its progression
through intense emotions. She really engaged with the audience here,
creating an absorbing characterisation. The tense drama of the instrumental
introduction – the piano’s subtle rubato, the slightest of expressive
delays on the first of the repeated chords, and a sleepy clarinet fermata –
issued a challenge to the voice, to match the openness and smoothness of
the clarinet’s opening melody, but Erraught equalled Pluta for mellifluous
allure, evincing both power and clarity through the undulating phrases. The
repeating triplets of Baillieu’s accompaniment were, as ever, judiciously
weighed, and both instrumentalists were simultaneously dramatic and
sensitive. The tempo of the minor-key central section of the aria, in which
the shepherd reflects on his grief and loneliness, seemed quite deliberate
and slow, but this only served to highlight the steady, icy flow of tears
in the piano’s right hand and the quiet pain of Erraught’s gently decorated
plaint, ‘Ich hier so einsam bin’ (I am so alone here). Soon, though, the
exuberant final section, in which the protagonist celebrates the spring to
come, chased away wintering melancholy.

In the four operatic numbers that comprised the second half of the
programme, Erraught revealed the extent of her expressive range and a
stalwart technique. She seemed more comfortable in this dramatic mode, more
naturally accommodating her large mezzo to the intimate Wigmore Hall while
hiding none of its power and palette.

Erraught captured all of Sifare’s pathos and hauteur in ‘Soffre il mio cor
con pace’ (My heart endures calmly) from the adolescent Mozart’s opera seria, Mitridate, re di Ponto, nailing, in the
opening phrase, the sustained note that expresses Sifare’s forbearance and
the wide leaps that convey his inner agitation. With Mitridate away
fighting a war against Pompey the Great, his two sons, Farnace and Sifare
battle for the love of their father’s new bride, Aspasia. She, afraid of
Farnace’s passionate advances, issues a despairing appeal to Sifare and he,
after agreeing to protect her, exclaims in this aria that while he can
withstand a woman’s beauty, a man’s pride cannot be abided – thereby
offering Mozart two opposing emotions to comply with the conventions and
structure of the da capo form.

Mozart’s vocal writing is demanding: the fifteen-year-old relied more on
coloratura flamboyance than the emotional mood-painting of his mature
operas to capture the wild ups and downs of love. Erraught was untroubled
by the wide leaps, flourishes and extensive scalic runs that traverse the
full range of the voice. The sudden transitions were convincing, and the
lyricism of the slow, triple time ‘b’ section offered a quiet anguish to
counter the statuesque indignation of the opening section.

Adolescent ardour and self-belief of a different kind were on display in
Cherubino’s ‘Voi che sapete’ from Le nozze di Figaro, where the
richness of the plummeting final phrases suggested the young page’s
candidness and incipient maturity.

Erraught offered two rarely heard works by Rossini to close the programme.
Rosina’s frequently cut ‘alternative’ aria, ‘Ah se Ë ver che in tal
momento’ (Ah, if it is the truth), from Il barbiere di Siviglia
-that Rossini composed for the soprano Josephine Fodor Mainvielle – was
impressive for the delicacy of the coloratura, which leapt lightly and
fully captured the vulnerable Rosina’s fears that Lindoro has betrayed her.
The floating lyricism of ‘Ah se Ë ver’ was effectively balanced by the
later bravura, as Rosina declares her faith in Lindoro’s innocence and
rejoices in his ‘compassionate love’.

Erraught’s technical security was similarly impressive in the composer’s
solo cantata Giovanna d’Arco (Joan of Arc). The first recitative,
in which the protagonist reflects on the mission before him, is followed by
an aria devoted to her mother. The second part interrupts such reflections
with thoughts of war and the summons of an angel of death. Erraught
conveyed Joan’s extraordinary emotional capacity, from the force of the
protagonist’s patriotic fervour – ‘O patria! O re! Novella un’aita verr‡’
(O my country! My king! A new source of help will come) – to the lilting
grace of maternal adoration. She effectively controlled and shaped the
growing intensity, culminating in the proud rhetoric and majesty pride in
the second part of the cantata, which was heightened by Baillieu’s
characterful accompaniment.

The Wigmore Hall audience was warmly appreciative, and Erraught was keen to
encore. I felt, though, that Sesto’s ‘Parto, parto’ from La clemenza di Tito, Mozart’s final opera seria, might
have been included as a conclusion to the ‘main programme’; a substantial
work – and finely performed by Pluta and Erraught – it seemed to demand a
‘full billing’, and it would have neatly complemented the opening work. Two
more short encores followed – Percy French’s ‘Long, long ago in the woods
of Gornamona’ and Aaron Copland’s ‘Long time ago’ – which allowed us to
appreciate the gentle sweetness of Erraught’s mezzo but which seemed
unnecessary adjuncts to what was a rewarding, thoughtful and well-conceived

Claire Seymour

Tara Erraught (mezzo-soprano), James Baillieu (piano), Ulrich Pluta

Louis Spohr: ‘Zwiegesang’ Op.103 No.2, ‘Das heimliche Lied’ Op.103 No.5,
‘Wach auf’ Op.103 No.6; Franz Paul Lachner: ‘Auf Fl¸geln des Gesanges’,
‘Seit ich ihn gesehen’ Op.82; Franz Schubert:Der Hirt auf dem Felsen D965; Mozart:Mitridate, re di Ponto K87 – ‘Soffre il mio cor con pace’, Le nozze di Figaro K492 – ‘Voi che sapete che cosa e amor’;
Rossini: Il barbiere di Siviglia – ‘Ah s’e ver’, ‘Giovanna

Wigmore Hall, London; Monday 6th March 2017.

image_description=Tara Erraught, James Baillieu and Ulrich Pluta at the Wigmore Hall
product_title=Tara Erraught, James Baillieu and Ulrich Pluta at the Wigmore Hall
product_by=A review by Claire Seymour
product_id=Above: Tara Erraught

Photo credit: Christian Kaufmann