I don’t usually give colloborative pianists headline billing but last night’s packed Koerner Hall recital certainly had an element of “They came for Ms. von Otter but stayed for Ms. Hewitt”. Hewitt was phenomenal in a program that interspersed solo piano pieces with sets of songs. In the songs she was simultaneously an individual voice and supportive of her colleague while the solo piano pieces were breathtaking; elegant Scubert and Brahms before the interval, staggeringly virtuosic Chabrier after. She’s also fascinating to watch.
None of this takes away from a very good and well received performance by the veteran mezzo-soprano. The voice may not be as youthful and full as it once was but there’s plenty still there; more than enough in fact for a piano recital in the friendly acoustic of Koerner Hall. The German half of the program was pretty decent though, to me, unexciting. A set of songs by Beethoven, including the fairly familiar Goethe one about a flea started things off. It gave a pretty good idea of the what we were going to get. Von Otter was sensitive to text, used a lot of vocal acting and a degree of physical acting that was just about as far as one would want anyone to go in a lieder recital. The Beethoven was followed by some fairly lightweight and familiar Schubert from Aus dem Wasser zu singen and some Brahms.
I found the French sets after the interval more interesting in almost every way. There was some Hahn, demonstrating what a fine, and underrated melodist he is. There was some Fauré and some highly atmospheric Débussy; the Trois chansons de Bilitis. The sly, allusively erotic texts are set to music that has the dream/nightmare quality of Pelléas and Mélisande and was very beautifully realised by Ms. von Otter. The final set, and perhaps best of all, was made up of songs by Cécile Chaminade. I was struck by the clarity of diction in songs that are often really fast and quite complex and the depth of both emotion and humour that was conveyed despite the rather breathless nature of the music.
There were three encores of increasing playfulness (there may have been more but I left after three) which is pretty indicative of the reception the concert got. It was fair enough. Anne-Sofie von Otter still has the chops and Angela Hewitt was stunning.