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2010.08.23 Recital, Edinburgh Festival: Malcolm Martineau


23 August 2010, 11:00 am
Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh Festival

Simon Keenlyside
Malcolm Martineau

Broadcast by BBC Radio 3 on Wednesday 1 September at 1.00pm

2010 August 23 Edinburgh Festival Queens Hall 2
Photo courtesy of Queen’s Hall


Ned Rorem:
Youth, Day, Old Age, and Night
O You Whom I Often and Silently Come
Root Cellar
My Papa’s Waltz

George Butterworth: Six Songs from a Shropshire Lad
Loveliest of trees
When I was one-and-twenty
Look not in my eyes
Think no more, lad
The lads in their hundreds
Is my team ploughing?

George Butterworth: Bredon Hill and Other Songs
Bredon Hill
Oh fair enough are sky and plain
When the lad for longing sighs
On the idle hill of summer
With rue my heart is laden

Robert Schumann:  Dichterliebe Op 48


Robert Schubert:
Der Einsame

About the performance

Time Magazine called Ned Rorem ‘the world’s best composer of art songs’. The winner of a Pulitzer Prize, he ranks as one of America’s most honoured composers and has a catalogue of over 500 songs and cycles.

In a tragic irony, Butterworth, who set A E Housman’s poems reflecting on the second Boer War, was killed at the Battle of the Somme in 1916.

Dichterliebe is one of Schumann’s most admired works. Settings of poems by Heinrich Heine, it traces a bitter journey of unrequited love.

Photo Gallery

courtesy of Queen’s Hall on Flickr

What the critics say

Carol Main, Scotsman, 24 August 2010

POSSIBLY the most striking feature of yesterday’s Queen’s Hall morning recital by baritone Simon Keenlyside and pianist Malcolm Martineau was how they work together as a partnership.

That they are not merely singer and accompanist was the foundation for a performance of Schumann’s Dichterliebe that absorbed and illuminated. In Heine’s glorious poetry of unrequited love, Keenlyside’s diction was crystal clear, but even without an understanding of German there was no doubt what this half-hour song cycle is about.

Heartfelt passion shifted from setting to setting, coercing the listener to share the pain as Keenlyside and Martineau probed further and further under its skin. Tears were almost tangible in Hor’ ich das Liedchen.

Communication through clear language was a strong point, too, in the opening songs by American composer Ned Rorem and two groups of Housman settings by the quintessentially early-20th century English composer George Butterworth. The rounded warmth of Keenlyside’s middle and lower range didn’t always quite make it to the top, but the overall result was well defined and demonstrated considered understanding of the quirkiness of Rorem and the touching pastoral nature of Butterworth.

Simon Thompson, musicweb-international

No-one attending this morning’s recital could doubt Simon Keenlyside’s emotional involvement with this music: as if to emphasise his identification with the subject material he spoke, briefly, at the end of the concert about the waste and futility expressed by Butterworth in his Housman songs. This cycle has been taken much more seriously of late, most recently in a superb recording of the complete Butterworth songs by Mark Stone. The elegiac nature of the songs, with their sense of loss and pastoral nostalgia, is only enhanced by knowledge of the composer’s early death at the Battle of the Somme. Too often this means that the songs can feel overly nostalgic or cloying. Not here: while Keenlyside gave us pastoral simplicity when needed he wasn’t above relaxing into the jolly nature of the first few songs of the Shropshire Lad set. However when called for, such as the poignant Is my team ploughing or Bredon Hill, there was wistful elegance, combined with an actor’s gift for role-play, though at times this came close to sounding forced. The more angular sound-world of Ned Rorem formed a good curtain-raiser with four utterly different songs covering subject as diverse as love, loss and a drunken father!

Keenlyside’s tone remains as golden as ever, particularly in the middle and lower register. In the first half I wasn’t quite so convinced by his upper voice which felt stretched and even a little forced in places. This disappeared for Dichterliebe, however, a cycle with which he is closely associated. He knows this music intimately and he displays the greatest skill of a lieder singer: the ability to take the audience on a journey. The poet’s hope, however faint, came through in the opening songs but desolation gradually took over until the ending. Great as this cycle is it can run the risk of being repetitive in its subject matter, but the artistry of this singer meant that each song came alive in its own way: Ich grolle nicht was a pinnacle, searing pain intermingled with stout resilience (or is it just an act?). Martineau remains one of the finest lieder accompanists: the postludes that Schumann includes to most songs kept the drama moving after the singer had stopped, and his rumbling march of the soldiers’ feet was very atmospheric in On the idle hill of summer. Schubert’s bouncy Einsame was a well-won encore.

Fiona Maddocks, The Guardian, 29 August 2010

Two other top singers gave recitals (from memory). Joyce DiDonato in the Usher Hall, acoustically cavernous for the purpose, and Simon Keenlyside in the ideal, recital-sized Queen’s Hall. DiDonato, with pianist David Zobel, chose an enchantingly quixotic programme of love songs in Italian, from Caccini to Pizzetti. Despite the flat, unhelpful lighting, this vivacious soprano, a natural stage animal, drew her audience in with her musical generosity, intelligence and esprit.

Keenlyside, always engrossing, nevertheless seemed physically awkward and vocally tense in Six Songs from A Shropshire Lad and “Bredon Hill” by George Butterworth, who died on the Somme in 1916, aged 31. His tiny output overflows with tender rhapsody, each song wistful and airborne like a fluttering kite. Both Keenlyside and pianist Malcolm Martineau sounded too earthbound. Schumann’s Dichterliebe Op 48 was another matter: Martineau’s natural, alert response to the prodigious piano writing matched Keenlyside’s own fine trajectory from ecstasy to agony, showing these performers at their empathetic best.

Scotland on Sunday, 5.9.2010

… In the Queen’s Hall it was a week for baritones, with two heavyweights, Simon Keenlyside and Gerald Finley, in two very different recitals of American and European song. Keenlyside’s expert vocal storytelling spun a web through a beautiful but thematically rather bleak morning of loss, grief and alcoholism, courtesy of Ned Rorem and Walt Whitman, George Butterworth’s settings of AE Housman’s A Shropshire Lad and Schumann’s Dichterliebe.

Keenlyside’s polished, lyrical, sculptural voice is supported by a wonderful clarity of diction, segueing from the intimate familiarity and slight nostalgia of the storyteller in Butterworth’s The Lads In Their Hundreds, to the internal agonies of Dichterliebe. But despite the brilliance of his vocal painting, Keenlyside never appeared entirely physically comfortable on the recital stage, unlike Canadian baritone Gerald Finley….

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

DJ Sarley March 29, 2010 at 5:42 pm

Saw Saturday’s performance in the movie theatre and was blown away. I was totally unaware of an opera of Hamlet (I’m a fairly new opera fan) and was just overwhelmed by the music and your performance. Bravo!

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