Melanie Eskenazi virtually attends the Oxford Lieder Festival, revamped for the pandemic.
The Oxford Lieder Festival goes from strength to strength – expect a big celebration for its 20th anniversary in 2021 – and this year’s streamed events provided strong evidence for its central position in the concert calendar. Idyllic settings and fascinating themes have always been its hallmarks, and despite the lack of a ‘live’ audience this series maintained the very high standards already set.
‘Connections across time’ featured music by Bach and Britten, finely juxtaposed and devotedly sung by Ian Bostridge. Ich habe genug displayed Bostridge’s sensitivity to language and his intimate understanding of Bach’s musical world, even though ‘Schlummert ein’ was a bit too taxing in parts, and the runs in ‘Ich freue mich’ sounded effortful. He was very finely accompanied by the Oxford Bach Soloists, supportively directed by Thomas Hammond-Davies.
Britten’s Canticle 1: ‘My beloved is mine and I am his’ was written for a memorial service in 1947, setting Francis Quarles’ poem which itself was inspired by the Song of Solomon. It’s a fervently expressed piece for which Bostridge’s voice is ideal, and he gave the right emphasis to the beautiful conclusion, ‘Which he accepts: an everlasting sign, / That I my best beloved’s am; that he is mine.’ Saskia Giorgini’s playing matched him in intensity.
On the evening of the same day, we heard a recital in the series on ‘The Sound of Silence’ from the much-hyped baritone Benjamin Appl, preceded by two songs sung by the soprano Nardus Williams, whose voice outshone that of the two men by some way. She has development still to come – she needs to refine her diction in places and her facial expression is somewhat bland, but this is a really remarkable voice, steady throughout its range and with a rapturous, burnished tone. Her Countess in Garsington’s streamed concert of Mozart scenes promised much, and she is living up to it; her ’Raste Krieger!’ was grippingly narrated and shaped with the skill of a natural Lieder singer. Sholto Kynoch provided beautifully sensitive accompaniment.
“…despite the lack of a ‘live’ audience this series maintained the very high standards already set”
Benjamin Appl is another ‘natural’ although in his case the promise is already fulfilled. He’s absurdly handsome and sweetly winsome as well as very self-confident and audience-friendly, and he has been much admired in recital and on disc. On this showing, he’s very pleasant to listen to. Naturally his German is a joy, and he clearly loves the music with passion, but in songs such as Schubert’s ‘An die Laute’ it was Kynoch’s lilting, witty accompaniment which provided the most pleasure. Appl is of the Gerhaher school in terms of the voice, although much more inclined to put a visual emphasis on the words.
You can see and hear these recitals on demand, along with more featuring Ashley Riches, Roderick Williams and Christoph Prégardien – Oxford Lieder is a bit like a whole Wigmore Hall season crammed into ten days in terms of the quality of its soloists.
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