Allyson McHardy’s lunchtime recital in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre today was unusual and effective; combining contrasting works by Brahms, Robert Fleming and Britten. Accompanied by Liz Upchurch on piano throughout, she was joined for the first set; Brahms’ Two Songs for Alto, Viola and Piano, Op. 91 by the COC’s principal violist, Keith Hamm. They were rather beautifully sung and played and were true to music and text; both of which are a bit too German Romantic for my taste.
The second set was Robert Fleming’s The Confession Stone (Songs of Mary); a setting of texts by Owen Dodson. This is an emotionally draining series of monologues addressed by Mary to Jesus stretching from birth to death. The vocal line is sustained and exposed with “support”, such as it is, coming from a very sparse and often dissonant piano line. It was heartfelt and beautiful and I can easily see why Allyson considers this a cornerstone of her recital repertoire. I’ll certainly be looking for a recording so I can listen again. Once again, I am struck by just how rich the Canadian art song repertoire is.
For the final set, Britten’s Canticle II: Abraham and Isaac, Allyson and Liz were joined by tenor Andrew Haji. This piece was written in 1952 for Britten, Pears and Kathleen Ferrier and has pre-echoes of quite a bit of Britten’s later music. It’s a dialogue between Abraham and Isaac drawn from the Chester Mystery Plays. There’s an interesting touch where to portray the “Voice of God” the two voices sing in unison. I really enjoyed this piece. Isaac is really a true contralto role so doesn’t sit that high above the tenor and the two voices blended beautifully in this performance and, as always with Britten, there’s just a bit more than one expects going ion in the piano part.
All in all, a great way to spend a spring lunchtime.