The final show of the season for the Talisker Players, at Trinity St. Paul’s last night, was titled A Poet’s Love and featured baritone Alexander Dobson and actor Stewart Arnott in the usual Talisker format of alternating music and readings on a theme. The first musical piece was John Beckwith’s Love Lines which took five pieces ranging from Handel’s Where’er you walk to Gershwin’s Blah, Blah, Blah and presented them with the vocal line cleaving straightforwardly to the melody with the accompaniment “deconstructed” into “fragments” for violin, viola, cello and double bass. It’s a rather disturbing piece, especially when one knows the source material well. I’d like to hear it again. It was given an honest and engaging presentation by Dobson and the strings.
Second up was Fauré’s La bonne chanson. I think I’ve heard this piece, or parts of it, just too often really and so maybe I’m looking for more in a performance than the piece has to give. I found it curiously routine. I wondered about Dobson’s phrasing. It seemed curiously detached from the sense of the text (Verlaine of course) but looking at the verses themselves I think it’s as much Verlaine as Dobson. In places the poet runs phrases over parts of lines in a way that respects his rhyme schema but plays havoc with any sense of singable line. Nothing wrong with the performances but Fauré, or maybe Verlaine was working for me last night.
After the interval we got Alexander Rapoport’s Fragments of Verlaine. This started life as a film score and does set “fragments” of the text sometimes repeated in different and slightly weird combinations, always incomplete and without conclusion. I rather liked it, not least as an antidote to more sentimental ways of setting Verlaine.
The concluding piece was Schumann’s Dichterliebe in the arrangement for string quartet by Harold Birston. It was in many ways the highlight of the night. Dobson wasn’t afraid here to be expressive; even to make ugly sounds where necessary though for the most part his voice is very sweet toned and easy to listen to. In particular he showed a fine ability to sing very softly but with clear diction and accuracy where required as, for instance, in Ich hab’ im Traum geweinet. Fine accompaniment too from the strings.
After Sunday’s more operatic concert it was interesting a bit thought provoking to see lieder presented very much in the traditional style. Dobson is a study in stillness with all the acting coming from the voice; a total contrast with, say, Robert Gleadow.
The interstitial readings were drawn from letters, memoirs and journals on the theme of longing for the beloved. They were most expressively read by Mr. Arnott.
There’s a further chance to catch this show tonight at 88pm, also at Trinity St. Paul’s.