Archive for October 22nd, 2013|Daily archive page

Pian, piano. We are listening.

In Classical Music, Opera, Review on October 22, 2013 at 11:59 am

Review – Angel Blue, Rosenblatt Recital (Wigmore Hall, Monday 21 October 2013)

Angel Blue (Soprano)
Catherine Miller (Piano)

I so wanted to leave Wigmore Hall last night as excited as many of the rest of the audience were. But stepping into the night, Angel Blue’s debut left me cold.

There is no denying that Angel Blue is talented and in possession of a magnificent and overall, a thrilling voice. It’s rich. It’s vibrant. It has a gleaming top. She conveys an exuberance and joy in singing that was clearly infectious for the audience in the venue.

And it’s loud. Very loud. And in her Wigmore Hall debut, not much else.

It could have been debut nerves but dynamically Angel Blue didn’t settle down as the recital progressed. At times it felt that this talented soprano was singing at and not to the audience.

And a lack of dynamic range inevitably affects the ability to apply light and shade to a vocal line. Expression and emotional projection become difficult and everything begins to sound – in truth – the same.

I don’t think she was helped particularly by her pianist Catherine Miller. At best Ms Miller played the notes, at worse she seemed to almost compete in terms of volume with her protagonist. Any song recital should be a symbiotic relationship between singer and accompanist. The pianist is essential in helping to create the mood and atmosphere. They should be in perfect synchronicity with each other.

I think Catherine Miller needs to work on it.

And the repertoire choices were in some cases unusual and in others ambitious.

Opening with the Alleluia from Mozart’s Exsultate Jubilate for example. I am not sure that this piece is best suited to Ms Blue’s voice. Personally I prefer a voice with a lighter touch and surely this is an encore piece at best?

The choice of Strauss was ultimately disappointing. I think that Angel Blue does have a voice that could be perfect for Strauss lieder – with piano or orchestra – in time and with much more coaching but the one-volume approach undermined the true beauty of the songs. There was a lack of true subtlety – almost of finesse – from the start in what are at the end of the day some of the most finely crafted lieder in the repetoire. Ms Blue didn’t really dig into the words of each poem and with Ms Miller really only playing the notes there was a distinct metronomic quality to each song.

Ms Blue may have captured the heady excitement of Heimliche Aufforderung but she failed to also intimate the sense of any secret between two lovers. The mood and the delicacy of Die Nacht – one of Strauss’ earliest songs was similarly undermined. Allerseelen got off to a bad start with very leaden playing from Ms Miller and the soprano struggled with the delicate arch of the vocal line. Of the final two songs in the Wie sollten wir geheim sie halten was possibly the most convincing. By default Ms Blue captured the excitement of the young lovers even if the speed was made everything unintentionally breathless. Sadly Befreit a song that requires so much tone painting and colour was the most disappointing. Over and above the almost turgid accompaniment, Ms Blue left nowhere for the expansive vocal line to go in terms of colour, volume or expression.

The soprano fared slightly better in the Rachmaninov whose songs more clearly where their heart’s on their sleeve. Ne poy, krasavitsa, pri mne – Pushkin’s oh-so-beautiful poem – was quite possibly the highlight of the first half. Here Ms Blue’s voice excelled and again while I wonted for more colour and expression, it was a moving performance. Vocalise is beguiling difficult. The wordless vocal line requires huge amounts of colour, flexibility and a secure vocal line. Ms Blue almost definitely had the latter – although throughout the recital she did demonstrate a tendency when trying to sing less-that-loud above the stave. But the lack of the first two made this Vocalise sound distinctly like a vocal exercise. Something it should never do.

Again technically Zdes’khorosho was all there but the wistfulness was missing but there is no denying that her full-throttle performance of Vesenniye void brought the first half to a thrilling close.

And it was during the interval – while discussing the recital with my friend – that it dawned on me why it had so far felt slightly disjointed. It didn’t feel so much a recital as, an audition. And this seemed to be borne to by the second half of the concert which was, on the face of it, better.

I’d venture to say that Angel Blue is much more comfortable in opera than lieder. That’s not to say that there was a marked change in terms of dynamic delivery, or a swing towards more subtle interpretation but vocally she seemed more comfortable and relaxing somewhat, more confident.

With Gershwin’s Summertime there was a verve, almost a literal swing to the performance. Chapi’s Las Carceleras from his zarzuela Las hijas del Zebedeo was equally exciting, with Ms Blue biting off the words with relish.

The verismo items – Cilea’s Io son l’umile ancella and Vissi d’arte – ably demonstrated Angel Blue’s more operatically inclined direction. While again they could have done with a bit more colour and expression there was no doubting the heft of her voice. But Vissi d’arte was the weakest of the pairing as a lack of subtlely, delicacy and the voice too large undermined this great aria.

And sadly in Dich teure Halle heft was too much in evidence, a trap that many sopranos fall into when confronted by Wagner.

Her final piece – clearly something of a party piece for Angel Blue – was É strano!… Ah, fors’è lui… Sempre libera from La traviata. Again there was verve, there was exuberance and there was panache. But there was little in the way of interpretation or depth.

Indeed I did wonder come the end of the recital proper why Angel Blue’s first debut wasn’t with an orchestra. Her voice – as she sang last night – was not tempered down in scale for a hall as intimate as the Wigmore.

Two encores – a spiritual and I Could Have Danced All Night from My Fair Lady – were obvious choices for this showcase audition. And suddenly Ian Rosenblatt’s comments before the concert – for everyone to buy CDs in the foyer and that the audience contained more than a few ‘major labels’ – made more sense – Ms Blue had just auditioned for London.

Potentially Angel Blue has a promising career ahead of her. Vocally she is very strong, musically she is confident and with more experience on stage and in the recital hall she could become a major talent to be reckoned with.

But as I left the hall I was reminded of nothing more than the end of the trio from Der Schauspieldirektor, Ich bin die erste Sängerin. Desperate to stop the competing sopranos, Monsieur Vogelsang implores them quite simply, “Pian, piano, pianissimo! Pianississimo!



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