Owing to Covid-19, the Wigmore Hall is closed, but not silent as a series of live lunchtime concerts is launched in collaboration with BBC Radio 3
The theme of this second outing, broadcast from an almost empty hall, was ‘Hope and Longing,’ a poignant one for our time and most evocatively expressed in the encore, ‘We’ll Gather Lilacs.’ Ivor Novello’s song seems particularly apposite this June, with its lines about grey times being cast away when the lovers can once more ‘Walk together down an English Lane.’ Corny, maybe, but Lucy Crowe and Anna Tillbrook gave it as much love as if it had been by Schumann.
It was Schumann in fact who provided the most memorable singing and playing in the programme, which marked twenty years of collaboration between this soprano and pianist. From the freshness and seeming spontaneity of their approach one might imagine they had recently met, but their sensitivity to the language and their intense musicality revealed their experience. ‘Meine Rose’ is one of those Schumann songs which looks easy on paper and can sound a little trite, but here it was given its proper significance, the pensive, almost hesitant piano beautifully partnering the voice. ‘Kennst du das Land’ and ‘Suleika’ were similarly powerful.
The recital began with a rare treat in the shape of Thomas Arne’s ‘O Ravishing Delight,’ a survivor from his opera The Judgement of Paris. You need a voice trained in Purcell and Handel for this, and Lucy Crowe reveals her expertise in every note, especially in the ecstatic line ‘Save me from an excess of joy.’
“From the freshness and seeming spontaneity of their approach one might imagine they had recently met, but their sensitivity to the language and their intense musicality revealed their experience”
A set of English Folk Songs provided a gentle respite after a powerfully intense performance of Berg’s Seven early Songs. Britten’s ‘Down by the Salley Gardens’ showcased Anna Tillbrook’s hypnotic phrasing, as did Vaughan Williams’ ‘Silent Noon,’ and Lucy Crowe’s pearlescent voice was given full rein in the unaccompanied ‘She Moved through the Fair.’
The Wigmore’s signature striking flower arrangements were absent, being replaced by sadly empty urns, the only flowers in sight being on Lucy Crowe’s frock, and the usual applause was silent. Nevertheless, being able to see and hear performers so close up gives a new dimension to live broadcasts, and reminds us of what we most treasure for when the world of music blossoms again.
• The series features a live concert every weekday in June. They can be viewed here: wigmore-hall.org.uk/watch-listen/live-stream