'Between Darkness and Light', Christchurch Arts Festival, 15 September 2013
Reviewed by Francis Yapp
Listener, 23 September 2013
Soprano Jenny Wollerman and pianist Michael Houstoun explored the magical space between dusk and dawn in Between Darkness and Light, an enchanting recital of art song from the Belle Époque to the present day. The songs included some well-loved favourites such as Debussy's Clair de lune, Fauré's En sourdine, and Beim Schlafengehen from Strauss's Four Last Songs, as well as Rachmaninov, Prokofiev, Brahms, Wolf and Vaughan Williams, and more recent compositions by Madeleine Dring and André Previn.
The choice of songs was superb. Wollerman shifted effortlessly between the French, English, Russian and German texts, all performed with sensitive phrasing and an acute sense of drama. Highlights were Rachmaninov's Noch yu v sadu and Vaughan Williams's Silent Noon, the latter performed with Wollerman sitting on the 'ground', bathed in a glow of evening light.
Indeed, Tony Rabbit's creative use of lighting and set design added a further layer of nuance to the interpretation of the song texts. The ingenious lighting was a perfect match for Wollerman's theatrical stage presence, coupled with Houstoun's captivating playing. She moved freely across the set according to the mood of the songs, and faded artfully out of view during Houstoun's solo performance of a movement from the Ravel Sonatine.
Houstoun was a joy to listen to. His Prokofiev preludes (Op.32 No.12 and Op.12 No.7) and the exquisite Ravel movement were relished by the audience and provided a perfect foil to the songs. His lyrical playing was an ideal partner to Wollerman's poetic singing.
(Comment: It was Fauré's Clair de lune that Jenny sang, and the first of those two Prokofiev preludes was actually by Rachmaninoff. Not mentioned in the review were the perfectly placed surtitles. It really is a magical recital. MH)