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2013.07.24 Recital, Verbier: Emanuel Ax


Verbier Church

24 July 2013

Simon Keenlyside, baritone
Emanuel Ax, piano


Johannes Brahms:

* Nachigallen schwingen
* Verzagen
* Über die Heide
* An eine Äolsharfe
* Auf dem Kirchhofe
* An die Nachtigall
* Es schauen die Blumen

Hugo Wolf:

* Fussreise #10
* Auf einer Wanderung #15
* Wie sollt ich heiter bleiben #45
* Blumengruß #24
* Bei einer Trauung #51
* Lied eines Verliebten #43
* Der Jäger #40

Gabriel Fauré:

Mandoline #1
En sourdine #2
Green #3
Madrigal de Shylock
Le papillon et la fleur

Maurice Ravel: Histoires naturelles

* Le Paon
* Le Grillon
* Le Cygne
* Le Martin- pècheur
* La Pintade

Franz Schubert: Incanto degli occhi
Franz Schubert: Der Jüngling an der Quelle
Franz Schubert: Die Sterne

Julian Sykes, Le Temps, July 26, 2013

translation by Ally and Jane Garratt

Simon Keenlyside, British eloquence

On Wednesday night the baritone, in concert with pianist Emanuel Ax at the Verbier Festival, caused a sensation when singing lieder by Brahms and Wolf and melodies of Fauré and Ravel.

There is in Simon Keenlyside a great sense of narrative. The British baritone in concert on Wednesday night at the Church of Verbier, modulated his tone of voice, between tenderness and authority. His French diction is impeccable, which is very rare among singers of today and it was a relief to hear a striking [performance of] the poems of Jules Renard, set to music by Ravel in “Histoires naturelles”. His singing is all the more eloquent, as he is accompanied by American pianist Emanuel Ax, sounding alternately enveloping and crystalline,  both artists listen and respond.
In the first part of the evening, the opera singer, 53,  physically athletic, who distinguished himself in Don Giovanni (the seducer and the bad boy!), Billy Budd, Wozzeck (in the staging of Christoph Marthaler ) or as Rodrigo, Marquis of Posa (“Don Carlo”), sings songs by Brahms and Wolf. His clear baritone timbre naturally fills the room. The colour of the voice is not so far removed from that of Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, with the difference that the British baritone sounds more natural. He does not exaggerate his intentions and lets the music flow by itself.
We admire his solid tone, nourishing the medium, by turns light and playful  (this makes the performance less heavy), or dark and serious. The baritone passes easily to the  falsetto in the high tessitura (although this sometimes seemed a little difficult) and has dark timbre in the most dramatic songs. A mixture of youthful energy and gravity befits the world of Brahms. Hugo Wolf allows him to value his talents as a singer in a selection of “Mörike-Lieder” and “Goethe-Lieder.” His  honeyed legato works wonders in a song like “Blumengruss.” The elegance of the line married to heart felt expression in Fauré ‘s “Mandolin”, “Mute On” and “Green” give charm to these French melodies.  The baritone sings almost whispered passages well, “recto tono” to highlight the interpolations and breaks in Ravel’s “natural Histories” . It hangs from his voice. Great art.

 Sylvain Fort, Forumopera.com, 1.8.2013

translation by Jane Garratt

Of sound and sense

“Simon Keenlyside has a way of singing melody which favours sentence and vocal modelling, rather than the detail of every word. In Brahms, it works well, even if certain elements of the breath seem deliberately effaced, or underestimated. One hears clearly his wish to lead sentences to their term in a sound arch rather than to carve words. It also goes with an intentionally operatic vocal program. Keenlyside does not have to make his voice different to sing the lied from the one that he uses for Posa. It is rather often impressive, besides, because we are not accustomed to such intensity in lieder, which many people sing softly. I am not sure that it works as well in Wolf, where really the sharp chiselling of the German words are almost the object of the musical writing.

In Fauré, in the second half, I have questions. Is it reasonable to treat « Le Papillon et la fleur » as an aria? deliberately, certainly, and even in the right spirit, but also with a lot of sound. What palliates this stance, is a marvellous French diction, that entices and expresses better than his German. A change of register in “Histoires Naturelles”: Keenlyside uses all his, previously unused, resources of the mi-voice. He dares to murmur, he almost speaks. His diction is perfect. The interpretation is ideal, really. I just regret a bit that he does not treat Fauré as he treats Ravel, without always searching for volume and depth of voice in a small room. As  consolation we have the sublime Schubert, as an encore, sung in the same colour of the mi-voice, internalized, spoken to himself. He began with “Incanto degli occhi” which we know is not Schubert’s biggest and the baritone started singing in a competitive manner. “Der Jüngling an der Quelle” and “Die Sterne” sung as if they were precious. And it is worth seeing. It was also the Schubert which finally allowed to Emmanuel Ax to breathe with his singer, after an evening in which he had his nose in the music as if he was sight reading it for the first time.”

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Bill Palik September 12, 2013 at 2:41 am

What Brahms Lieder were on this recital, or am I not looking in the right place? I would love hearing Simon in live performance doing Brahms, but he oddly does not gravitate to Johannes the way he does to Schubert, Wolf, and some other composers. After his New York recital with Ax in 2011, I asked him if he were going to be involved in Graham Johnson’s complete Brahms project, and he wrinkled his nose and said he didn’t think so; he had just recently recorded a raft of Brahms (along with Schumann Dichterliebe) – of course I already knew that CD, but how wonderful it would be to have studio recordings of Simon singing Mainacht, Wir wandelten, etc. As to upcoming recitals in the US with Ax, I guess “soon” is a relative term, but I am not holding my breath waiting…

Kew August 7, 2013 at 11:39 am

I bumped into the accompanist in Verbier and had a small talk with him.

Petra August 7, 2013 at 6:09 am

How do you know, Kew?

Kew August 7, 2013 at 4:37 am

It seems that Emanuel Ax and Simon plan a recital(s?) in the States in the near future. That won’t be a Winterreise one, though.


Ally August 1, 2013 at 6:18 pm

Dear friends, I can’t take credit for ‘translation’. I only managed to reach this article already moved to Archive and not available to Le Temps non-subscribers. It’s a great review, I read it early, on the day of publishing and was very upset not to find it in free access any more. Thru a kind of browser ‘detour’ the review was pulled out of Archive and automatically translated from French to ‘Googlish’. It was Jane who finished the job.

By the way the concert in New York that Marilyn mentioned was for me the first Simon’s live recital. And by now it’s the only one. Unfortunately I wasn’t in Atlanta in 2012, and Simon doesn’t visit ‘our side of pond’ every year. CDs and Youtube help but I’d like to see LIVE recital performance. Maybe next year in Miami with Cleveland Orchestra…

Emmanual Ax is a very good pianist, love him. He lives in New York so it’s not a problem to attend his concerts solo, with orchestras or accompnying singers – where is Simon :).

Marilyn July 31, 2013 at 7:48 pm

This is really a wonderful review . . . it’s always so much fun to read someone sort of discovering Simon!

Could I just point out that this review is from “Le Temps” . . . the “Classique” is just the section of the newspaper . . .

I think it’s also worth noting that apparently–according to some recent interview Simon did–he and Emanuel Ax will be doing quite a bit of work together over the coming years . . . clearly they seem to be enjoying working together (they did a recital in NYC a couple years ago to terrific reviews) . . . this is exciting news . . . Simon has not been doing enough recitals the last couple years . . .

Not that I’d ever want him to stop working with Malcolm Martineau . . . but maybe Malcolm can’t be available all the time to Simon because he accompanies so many other singers.

And let us not forget some of Fischer-Dieskau’s greatest collaborations were also with great solo pianists (Sviatoslav Richter and Daniel Barenboim, just to name two), who were also fabulous collaborative artists.



Sue July 31, 2013 at 4:52 pm

Well, this is a review worth waiting for! And in addition to the ‘magical voice’ Tweet from Emanuel Ax.
How wonderful – if only we could have all been there!
Thank you Ally & Jane for your translation.

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