Yesterday’s free concert in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre saw four members of the Ensemble Studio singing contrasting works by Benjamin Britten. First up was bass-baritone Gordon Bintner with excerpts from Tit for Tat; settings of works by Walter de la Mare. These were full blooded performances and Bintner gave full reign to his powerful and flexible voice. It’s a terrific instrument but I would have preferred a little more restraint and subtlety, especially in something as intimate as these pieces. Next up was tenor Andrew Haji with excerpts from Seven Sonnets of Michelangelo. It was rather a similar story. He has a fine, operatic voice and gave the songs a rather operatic treatment. It was good singing but not in the idiom one is accustomed to hearing this music sung in.
Mezzo Charlotte Burrage gave us A Charm of Lullabies and sang it in a more intimate manner. It’s really a rather slight piece as Britten vocal works go but she got plenty out of it and was most enjoyable to listen to. The concert closed out with soprano Aviva Fortunata singing the Pushkin settings Ekho Poeta/The Poet’s Echo written for Galina Vishnevskaya. These are angry, dramatic pieces and do call for a full blooded sound, which Fortunata delivered. Good stuff.
The piano parts were played by Michael Shannon, except for the Michelangelo sonnets where Jenna Douglas came in. Both of them were extremely good. The piano parts in these pieces, as with just about all Britten writing for voice and piano, are a very important part of the piece and not at all easy so an excellent collaborative pianist is an even more crucial part of a successful performance than usual. Michael did a good job of introducing the pieces too.
One has to remember that all four singers on show here are first year members of the Ensemble Studio so it’s not surprising or at all disturbing that the product wasn’t as polished as with more experienced singers. We heard a lot of somewhat raw talent; some fine voices in fact. The polish will, I’m sure, come.