Opera + Classical Music Reviews

Kate Royal @ Wigmore Hall, London

16 February 2008

Kate Royal

Kate Royal

Having won sudden commercial success with her solo release of last year, Kate Royal seems to be conquering the recital platform by stealth. Over the last three years she has courted the notoriously fastidious Wigmore Hall crowd, who turn out in droves for her sell-out concerts, and now she’s found an excellent partnership in the pianist Roger Vignoles.

They have already excited rave reviews, and next month sees the pair go global with a recital tour of North America. Last night’s programme didn’t duplicate Royal’s recording excepting Strauss’ Ich Wollt Ein Sträußlein Binden, and her encore of Debussy’s Air de Lia but it followed a similar vein, with songs by Brahms, Debussy, Poulenc and Strauss.

The evening’s tone was somewhat predetermined by the literature, which ranged from canonical heavyweights such as Goethe and Baudelaire to work by the more obscure twentieth-century poet, Louise de Vilmorin; we saw the rare flash of anger and an occasional flicker of unchecked passion, but for the most part the pieces followed meditative themes of nature, melancholy, lost love, and death.

This is not to suggest saturnine monotony, there may have been little room for frivolity or coquettishness, but Royal presented us with a subtle arc of vital emotion, beginning with Brahms’ sombre Vier Gesnge and, visibly relaxing through the course of the concert, to finish with the relative exuberance of Strauss’ Als mir dein Lied erklang!

Particularly memorable were Debussy’s Cinq Pomes de Charles Baudelaire: Royal’s luminous soprano cut through the extravagant piano line to reach the very quick of these works, and added a certain plangency to La mort des amants’, a little piece that makes anticipatory hints at his Suite bergamasque. Next came Poulenc’s Fianailles pour rire, including the languid and sultry Violon’ and Mon cadavre est doux comme un gant’, which gruesome metaphor aside proved delicate and moving.

However, it was with Strauss that Royal excelled, again negotiating a rich operatic style with simple elegance. She surfed the high-flying melismas of Ich Wollt Ein Sträußlein Binden with ease, and in his Mdchenblumen, a quartet of flower songs inspired by four young maidens, proved no shrinking violet herself, packing quite a punch in the climax of Mohnblumen’.

Some have criticised Royal’s diction in the past, and this has tainted a few (on the whole enthusiastic) reviews of the solo album. Certainly she lacks the colour and definition of a native French or German speaker her consonants could be more shapely and the text suffers particularly in break-neck sections of Poulenc’s Il vole’ but the clarity that was lacking in this respect was made up elsewhere.

Aided by Vignoles’ sensitive accompaniment, Royal gave her lucky ticket-holders a confident, multifaceted performance that was thoroughly deserving of the respect she now commands.

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