Habe Dank!

In Review, Richard Strauss on April 10, 2016 at 8:24 am

Review – Renée Fleming ( Barbican, Wednesday 6 April 2016) 

Renée Fleming (Soprano) & Hartmann Höll (Piano) 

For some reason, this felt like a valedictory concert. I sincerely hope not. I know that Renée Fleming is drawing a curtain on her stage performances but I’m hoping that she will continue recitals for many, many years to come. 

Entitled “Love, loss and fury” the selection of lieder ran the whole gamut of human emotion. Perhaps overall there was more love and loss, than fury except for the somewhat inevitable comment on Donald Trump. 

Ms Fleming’s introduction prior to Schumann’s Frauenliebe und –leben stated that she had only recently started performing this cycle. Overall it was a convincing performance but I think that it will get even better over time. With more involvement and projection of the text and perhaps less emotional constraint this could very well become a centrepiece of Ms Fleming’s future recital repertoire. 

The Rachmaninov that followed was much more emphatic and much more alive. Setting the scene immediately with O, dolgo budu ya (In the silence of the secret night), Ne poy, krasavitsa, primne was the highlight of the first half, demonstrating Ms Fleming’s innate ability to spin out the most beautiful legato line. 

The second half was dedicated to two of the soprano’s passions – Richard Strauss and new music. 

Jazz musician and composer Patricia Barber’s set of songs demonstrate a confident and mature talent. Perhaps some of the songs could do with being slightly tightened and it would potentially be interesting to hear these restored for a smaller chamber ensemble. Of the five songs, it was Morpheus which was the most memorable. With its insistent repeated note buried under rich textures, it most closely captured the words being sung. 

Yet it was the Strauss, here and in the encore, which stole the entire evening. Ms Fleming has had a career-long love affair with Richard Strauss. Some may disagree with me, but she is one of the best interpreters of his lieder performing today. Vocally, they fit like a glove and emotionally, she invests more in his lieder and operas than in other music. Each song was exquisite in its performance. The skittishness of Das Bächlein was perfectly captured, and there was some stunning colouring from Hartmann Höll in Ruhe, Meine Seele. The sense of loss and nostalgia in Allerseelen – perhaps one of Strauss’ most beautiful lieder – was almost tangible and contrasted so perfectly with the triumphant, blazing Zueignung

Three contrasting encores ended the recital. After a sultry Summertime and a faultless O, mio babbino caro the only way to end the evening was with Strauss. And Morgen!, Strauss’ wedding gift to his difficult wife was the only and perfect choice. Here, as throughout the evening, Höll showed himself to be an intuitive, insightful and sympathetic accompanist and Ms Fleming’s performance of this gem reminded everyone in the hall not only of her love for this composer, but also what an exceptional performer she is. 

Habe Dank Ms Fleming and come back soon.

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