Opera + Classical Music Reviews

Lawson Trio / Katherine Broderick @ Chelsea Schubert Festival, London

17-19 September 2007

Having enjoyed the Doric Quartet’s performance on my first visit to the Chelsea Schubert Festival, I returned twice more.

Once for a performance by the Lawson Trio and once for a recital by rising young soprano Katherine Broderick.

The former played the Second Piano Trios of Shostakovich and Schubert with zest and fire though not always technical perfection.

Shostakovich’s trio, composed in 1944, was dedicated to recently deceased musicologist and close friend Ivan Sollertinsky, but the work is as much a reaction to the European horror of the time as it is to the personal tragedy in Shostakovich’s life. The use of Jewish folk music has evident significance: Shostakovich is alleged to have noted its ability to appear “happy while it is tragic”, and he explores its grotesque possibilities in the emotionally elusive Allegretto.

The occasionally scratchy sounds from the Lawson Trio’s strings actually did a lot for the performance, and an elastic tension palpably stretched through the four movements (though not the movement breaks), melding together the macabre dances and anguished whispers of cello harmonics. Schubert’s work, coming after the interval, drew from the three players a more transparent texture, though the bowing was still robust enough to reach for the attention.

Guildhall Gold Medal winner Katherine Broderick took her turn two days later, conclusively living up to the high standards that she has already set herself, so early in her career. There were various brief moments of vocal cragginess, where Broderick’s throat roughened inappropriately, generally in her middle register on fleeting words such as “im”, “ich”, “es” and “et”. Possibly her recent wonderful performance in British Youth Opera’s Albert Herring has left her vocal chords somewhat the worse for wear. But elsewhere, in this programme of nine composers, it was the bright, golden tone and fearless delivery that impressed.

I remember Broderick’s performance at the Barbican in the Gold Medal competition, which demonstrated how resonant, shiny and clean her voice is, but I had forgotten how well she uses it; how evocatively she varies her timbre and how willingly she pulls poised diminuendos and ghostly half voices from her sizeable box of vocal tricks. Her grasp of languages (French most noticeably) is excellent. She also does comedy very well – I don’t think I’ve found Schoenberg so warm and funny before. One could possibly wish for more physical, psychological intensity in her delivery of the more anguished works (Schubert’s An die Entfernte for one), but this will come in time as Broderick gains confidence and begins to inhabit the platform.

For now, the joy comes not from listening to or watching a great artist, but from seeing, at the start of her career, a singer surely destined for greater things.

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More on Katherine Broderick
Preview: Fidelio @ Garsington Opera, Wormsley
Lawson Trio / Katherine Broderick @ Chelsea Schubert Festival, London
Albert Herring @ Peacock Theatre, London
Capriccio @ Guildhall School Theatre, London
Interview: Katherine Broderick