Tara Erraught sings Loewe, Mahler and Hamilton Harty at Wigmore Hall

Wigmore Hall was silent for just three days this Christmas before first the
Schumann Quartet and then pianist Jonathan Plowright reignited man’s search
for ‘the elusiveness of music in its great abstraction’, as represented by
Gerald Moira’s cupola above the Wigmore Hall platform. They were followed
by Irish mezzo-soprano Tara Erraught in this recital with pianist James
Baillieu, in which lieder by Carl Loewe and Gustav Mahler were complemented
by Irish songs, both traditional and composed by Hamilton Harty.

Erraught is a calm, self-assured and personable performer. Sadly, the
audience at Wigmore Hall was not large but the Irish mezzo-soprano was
obviously delighted to be performing at the Hall, and her warmth and ease
were communicated throughout the recital. The piano lid was fully raised,
and the instrument positioned towards the front of the platform. In the
opening few songs, the balance between voice and piano was not always
effective, especially when the vocal line lay low, but Erraught quickly got
the measure of the acoustic and her clear, fresh mezzo and generally
attentive diction communicated the poetic moods and situations effectively.

During his lifetime, Carl Loewe (1796-1869) built up a reputable career as
a composer-singer, accompanying himself in public concerts, but his work is
not well-known today in comparison with that of his fellow Romantic
songsters. His oeuvre includes approximately 250 lieder and 150 art
ballads, and Erraught and Baillieu offered us a welcome opportunity to hear
eighteen of his songs; if one was inclined to compare them with more
familiar settings of these texts by the likes of Schubert, Schumann et al, then Loewe held his ground well, Erraught and Baillieu
bringing forth the diverse characters and colours within the sequence.

Of the four songs presented from Gesammelte Lieder, Ges ‰nge, Romanzen und Balladen Op.9, ‘Der du von dem Himmel bist’
(You who come from heaven) was the most engaging. Following segue
from ‘‹ber allen Gipfein’ (Over every mountain-top), it effected a striking
change of mood from a hushed calm to a more vibrant, Schumann-esque
passion. Before that, Baillieu’s dark, ponderous ambience-setting opening
to the ‘Szena from Faust’ had revealed his sensitivity to
poetic-dramatic mood and nuance, while Erraught worked hard to convey the
extremes of tenderness and pain which Goethe juxtaposes.

Five songs from Loewe’s Liederkreis nach Gedichten von Friedrich R ¸ckert Op.62 followed. Again, the Irish mezzo-soprano communicated
the spirit of the text effectively. In ‘Irrlichter’ (Will-o’-the-wisps),
the voice hurried and scurried mischievously, sinisterly while the piano’s
whispers raced and whirled, but it was in the slower more lyrical songs
that Erraught seemed most comfortable. ‘S¸sses Begr‰bnis’ (Loving burial)
achieved a beautiful tranquillity, enhanced by the piano’s gentle
chromaticisms and fluid oscillations. And, whereas on occasion there was a
sense that Erraught was going through the motions of storytelling rather
than truly living the protagonists’ dramas, in ‘O s¸sse Mutter’ (O mother
dear), she seemed to engage more fully and freely with the sentiments and
experience of the song’s speaker, thereby communicating feeling and
situation more directly and persuasively.

The Loewe sequence closed with the composer’s Op.60 cycle of nine songs
settings poems from Chamisso’s Frauenliebe, composed in 1836.
‘Seit ich ihn gesehn’ (Since first seeing him) and ‘Du Ring an meinem
Finger’ shared a charming simplicity, though the latter blossomed more
expansively in the final couplet, while ‘Er, der Herrlichste von allen’
(He, the most wonderful of all) enabled Erraught to exploit her richly
coloured lower voice and demonstrate her vocal agility. Baillieu’s
characterisation captured the contradictory impulses of the soon-to-be-wed
maiden in ‘Helft mir, ihr Schwestern’ (Help me, my sisters); again,
Erraught displayed a fine sensitivity to the melodic phrasing in ‘S¸sser
Freund’ (Sweet friend). Best of all was ‘Nun hast du mir den ersten Schmerz
getan’ (Now you have caused me my first pain) in which the bereaved woman’s
hurt was communicated with affecting poise, the words fully painted with
vocal and harmonic colour as voice and piano octaves captured the extent
and volatility of the singer’s grief. To conclude, Erraught exhibited a
strong sense of structure and nuance as she took us through the repetitive
melodic utterances of ‘Traum der eignen Tage’ (Dream of my own days), the
voice carried forward by the piano’s fluency towards a convincing if sombre
close when the voice was finally permitted to fall, in grave resolution:
“Sei der Schmerz der Liebe/ Dann dein hˆchstes Gut.” (May love’s sorrow
then be your dearest possession.)

We had been informed that three programmed songs from Mahler’s Des Knaben Wunderhorn would not be performed, and so the second
half of the recital opened with the composer’s Five R ¸ckert Lieder. During the concert, Erraught reminded us that she
has lived in Germany for several years (where since 2010 she has been a
resident principal soloist with the Bayerische Staatsoper), and if I did
not feel that she was truly ‘inside’ the German texts of the Loewe songs
before the interval, now she seemed to find a more ‘natural groove’.

The mezzo-soprano found a nice balance between the intimacy of the songs
and their expressive sophistication. After the playful ‘Blicke mir nicht in
die Lieder!’ (Do not look into my songs!), in ‘Ich atmet’ einen linden
Duft’ (I breathed a gentle fragrance) Erraught’s voiced did indeed seem
‘scented’, floating like the fragrance wafting from the spray of lime, the
mood dreamy, the harmonic colour somewhat enigmatic. As the vocal line rose
in ‘Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen’ (I am lost to the world), I wished
that we had heard more of Erraught’s upper range, particularly as the
bronzed sheen of the soaring phrases made such a striking contrast to the
plummet of the final stanza, ‘Ich bin gestorben dem Weltget¸mmel,/ Und ruh’
in einem stillen Gebeit’ (I am dead to the world’s tumult, and rest in a
quiet realm). Baillieu’s postlude was beautiful, transporting us to the
heaven in which the sing lives along, ‘In meinem Lieben, in meinem Lied.’
(In my loving, in my song). ‘Liebst du um Schˆnheit’ (If you love for
beauty) was wonderfully understated and exquisitely controlled, lofting
vocal phrases left hanging in ambiguity. ‘Um Mitternacht’ (At midnight) was
disturbing, troubled and lonely: though the protagonist finds some solace
in his faith in God, the piano’s closing utterance offered little

Erraught introduced the Irish songs, explaining that while it had once been
standard for schoolchildren to learn and sing the traditional songs of
their native land, this is now less common and she herself has only a
limited knowledge of the repertory. ‘RoÌsÌn Dubh’ was intense and imbued
with passion and drama: I think I like my Irish folk-songs rather more in
the style of Niamh Parsons, but there was no doubting the rhetorical power
and heartfelt sentiment of Erraught’s rendition, which was deepened by the
piano’s shuddering dark tremolos in the final verse. ‘The lark in the clear
air’ was cleansing and pure; simply and assuredly beautiful singing.

Two songs by Hamilton Harty brought the recital to a close. ‘Sea Wrack’ has
the poetic and musical depth of a genuine lieder, and Erraught and Baillieu
made much of the linguistic pun ‘wrack’/’wreck’ – the former being both a
type of seaweed and an archaic Irish word for a shipwreck – though they
never lapsed into melodrama as the sea-weed collector’s old brown boat went
down ‘upon the Moyle’. The burbling piano gestures of the closing lines
were eerie: ‘The dark wrack,/ The sea wrack,/ The wrack may drift ashore.’

Erraught and Baillieu obviously enjoyed each other’s musical company, and
the small but appreciative Wigmore Hall audience were undoubted delighted
that they had shared in the evening’s music-making.

Claire Seymour

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

Carl Loewe
: From Gesammelte Lieder, Ges‰nge, Romanzen und Balladem
Op.9 – ‘Meine Ruh ist hin’, ‘Ach neige, du Schmerzensreiche’, ‹ber allen
Gipfeln ist Ruh’ (Wandrers Nachtlied) and ‘Der du von dem Himmel bist
(Wandrers Nachtlied II)’; From Liederkreis nach Gedichten von Friedric R¸ckert Op.62 –
‘Irrlichter’, ‘Hinkende Jamben’, ‘Das Pfarrj¸ngferchen’, ‘S¸sses Begr‰bnis’
and ‘O s¸sse Mutter’; Frauenliebe Op.60; Gustav Mahler: Five R¸ckert Lieder; Trad/Irish: ‘RÛisÌn Dubh’ and ‘The Lark in the Clear Air’; Hamilton Harty: ‘Lane o’ the Thrushes’, ‘Sea Wrack’

Wigmore Hall, London; Sunday 29th December 2019.

product_title=Tara Erraught (mezzo-soprano) and James Baillieu (piano) at Wigmore Hall, 29th December 2019
product_by=A review by Claire Seymour
product_id=Above: Tara Erraught