Opera + Classical Music Reviews

Leeds Lieder Festival 2022: The pick of a Wigmore Hall song season, in a single weekend

29, 30 April, 1 May 2022

A bounty of wonderful music in Leeds from Tritschler, Glynn, Bostridge, Cooper, Riches, Hillebrand and Middleton.

Leeds Lieder

Christopher Glynn & Robin Tritschler, Ian Bostridge & Imogen Cooper, Joseph Middleton & Ashley Riches and Joseph Middleton & Nikola Hillebrand (Photos: Robert Piwko)

Anyone who sloped off back ‘doon’ South before the closing concert of the 2022 Leeds Lieder Festival should give themselves a jolly good kicking today. Louise Alder having cancelled owing to illness, the German soprano Nikola Hillebrand stepped in, accompanied in a beautiful programme by the Festival’s director, Joseph Middleton. This was the soprano’s UK recital debut – she was to have made that at the Wigmore Hall, but Leeds fortuitously nabbed her first; just as well, given that there will soon come a time when most venues won’t be able to afford her.

This was the final recital of a weekend crammed with stunning performances of wonderful songs, and it was a fitting conclusion. Those who have heard recitals by the Festival’s President, Elly Ameling, will surely agree that Hillebrand possesses a very similar voice and communicative ability to those of the great Dutch soprano. Ameling stunned me with her singing of ‘Was bedeutet die Bewegung’ many years ago at the Edinburgh Festival, and the audience here reacted in the same way on hearing Hillebrand begin the evening with Schubert’s ‘Romanze aus Rosamunde’. She has it all – warm, sweet tone, elegant phrasing, and sensitivity to nuances of language; add to that the facts that she is stunningly beautiful and has a winning stage manner, and you’ll see why she is already a star.

Although the programme focused on songs of love and longing, she found space for lighter moments with ‘An die Laute’ and ‘Die Männer sind mechant’ both wittily characterized and accompanied with seemingly insouciant skill. In contrast, Brahms’ ‘Da unten im Tale’ and ‘Wiegenlied’ had the kind of gentleness only achievable with secure technique and perfect legato.

The all-Strauss second half was full of treasurable musical experiences, chief among which was a rare outing for ‘Allerseelen’, given a genuinely touching performance, the repeated ‘Wie einst im Mai’ evoking tears just as it should. The programme’s close, ‘Morgen’ was a model of exquisite singing and beautifully judged playing. Of course, we wanted more, and they provided it with a stunning rendition of ‘The Last Rose of Summer’.

Leeds Lieder

Nikola Hillebrand & Joseph Middleton (Photo: Robert Piwko)

Joseph Middleton’s day was a packed one on Sunday, in that just a few hours earlier he had accompanied Ashley Riches in a powerful performance of ‘Die Schöne Müllerin’. The bass-baritone was also a stand-in, since Konstantin Krimmel had had to cancel, so Middleton had to pull off the feat of accompanying two unexpected singers in one day. That he achieved it triumphantly says a lot about not only his talent but the ethos of the Leeds Lieder Festival.

“…a weekend crammed with stunning performances of wonderful songs…”

Riches has a supremely confident stage manner, and he gripped us instantly with his swaggering yet vulnerable ‘Das Wandern’, accompanied by Middleton with great style. This is a young man’s interpretation, stronger in angry, forceful mode than in more intimate moments, although that huge voice was impressively scaled down for the tender songs such as ‘Morgengruss’.

The two form a close partnership, the piano echoing the voice with sympathetic skill in songs such as ‘Pause’ and ‘Des Baches Wiegenlied’. A similar closeness was heard in the previous evening’s Schubert recital by Ian Bostridge and Imogen Cooper, neatly programming the Schwanengesang Rellstab and Heine settings around related individual songs. Bostridge is of course a known quantity as far as Lieder performance is concerned, his platform attitude of what might be called ‘unendlich elend’ a bit too much for some.

However, Bostridge never fails to give his all, he clearly loves this music with a passion, and his attitude is echoed by Cooper, whose lyrical playing forms such an ideal foil to his more anguished interpretations. Whenever you feel he’s in dangerous waters, she pulls him from the brink, which makes for an edge of seat evening, especially in songs such as ‘Bei dir allein’. Their exceptional partnership was finely demonstrated in ‘Der Wanderer an den Mond’, that sublime key change so tenderly done and the closing phrases ‘Doch auf der Heimat boden steht!’ so movingly sung.

The Heine settings are central Bostridge territory, and he seems to have deepened his interpretations of them even further; ‘Der Atlas’ was positively shattering, and ‘Der Doppelgänger’ a study in the presentation of spine-tingling fear, Cooper’s piano chillingly setting the scene. Seidl’s much loved ‘Die Taubenpost’ closed the programme with a performance of moving tenderness, those lilting piano phrases and the singer’s intimate confidences reminding us once more of Schubert’s genius.

And so to the first of our weekend’s recitals, a brilliantly programmed evening from Robin Tritschler and Christopher Glynn. The first half explored the closeness of Purcell and Britten, in such songs as ‘I attempt from love’s sickness to fly’ and ‘My beloved is mine’, both sung and played with tenderness. Britten’s ‘Canticle’ is a challenging work which Tritschler and Glynn performed with dramatic commitment. The voice was perhaps a little weighty for ‘Sweeter than Roses’ although the piece was excitingly sung, and the music of the two composers was finely illuminated in the selection.

The latter half was an unusual combination of songs with a lunar theme, beginning with a very fine performance of Schubert’s ‘Der Winterabend’ and succeeding in making the case that such songs as Mancini’s ‘Moon River’ and Liza Lehmann’s ‘Ah, moon of my delight’ are worthy of inclusion in a Lieder recital. Tritschler’s voice has matured to great effect over the past few years, and his confidence and showmanship are outstanding. This tenor and pianist’s partnership was shown here to great effect and much appreciated by an enthusiastic audience – as indeed was the case with all the recitals in this unforgettable weekend of song.

• Streams of the concerts can be found here.

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