Simon Keenlyside / Malcolm Martineau:
Songs by Schubert,
Wolf, Fauré and Ravel
Simon Keenlyside / Malcolm Martineau: Songs by
Schubert, Wolf, Fauré and Ravel. Wigmore
Hall Live WHLive 0031;
one CD, $17.98.
Simon Keenlyside is certainly at the top of his game at the moment.
Having performed internationally now for over two decades, his confidence,
intelligence and sincere musicality make him sought after for high profile
operatic assignments and for recitals in notable venues. Thousands saw
him in late March in the title role of Thomas' "Hamlet" by
way of the Metropolitan Opera's HD movie theater transmission, a performance
that confirmed his riveting dramatic concentration and subtle emotional
That same interpretive talent comes through even when it's only heard and not
seen. This live recording from an October 26, 2008, recital in London's Wigmore
Hall shows off Keenlyside's range and sensibilities in a nigh-perfect presentation.
The six Schubert songs that open the program form a mini-catalog of this artist's
abilities. His diction is clean and true, without undue exaggeration; his vocal
production warm and open, never strained. He finds subtle variations in familiar
songs, such as "An Silvia" and "Ständchen," while
saving his deepest focus for less familiar items. He makes a mini-drama out
of "Verklärung," agitatedly intense when calling upon nature
to cease life's pain, ecstatically hushed when addressing the spirits of death.
Similarly, Keenlyside gives "Himmelsfunken" a radiant calm as he
describes the call to heaven. Each song has its own dramatic world precisely
differentiated from the others.
Six Wolf songs provide a wider range of character and mood, which Keenlyside
eagerly takes on, applying specific colors and weight to each odd shift and
pause. He finds great beauty in "An die Geliebte," with its passionate
tribute to a beloved, and tortured obsession in "Lied eines Verliebten," with
its crazed lover's longings. Pianist Malcolm
Martineau provides equally intense
or wafting accompaniment as required.
Although Keenlyside lightens his voice and style for the two French groups,
it is still a more robust sound than usually associated with such material.
However, he uses his French diction and huge dynamic range to characterize
each song with admirable specificity. In the eight Fauré works, Keenlyside
supplies ardent youth in "Green," palpitating breathlessness in "Notre
amour," and bitter anger in "Fleur jetée," nicely underpinned
by Martineau's cheeky, spiky keyboard contributions. In the five pieces that
make up Ravel's "Histoires naturelles," Keenlyside shifts into impressionist
mode, singing of peacock, cricket, swan, kingfisher and guinea fowl with appropriate
languidness, mirrored in Martineau's dreamy support. (There's a Poulenc encore,
the slight "Hôtel.")
The recorded sound is clear, with the performers at a slight remove
to give the feeling of the hall, allowing some reverberant space around
them. The audience is extremely quiet, its enthusiastic applause included
at the end of each set.
Some may have other favorite interpreters for individual songs or composers,
but taken as complete recital, this recording is hard to beat. It should
please aficionados as well as those new to these works.
Roy C. Dicks