Last night at Gallery 345 Rachel Fenlon gave a preview performance of her new one woman show Fenlon & Fenlon:Liebesbotschaft. It’s a program of fifteen more or less well known Schubert lieder put together to create some kind of thematic arc around love and loss and redemption. There’s scarcely a Bächlein to be seen. The USP, of course, is that Rachel accompanies herself on the piano.
It’s curiously difficult to figure out just how this approach makes the experience different for the audience, especially when, as in this case, one is not familiar with the singer in normal mode. It’s also quite hard to sort out what one thinks ought to be happening from what objectively is. For example, I initially thought that Rachel sounded balanced much further back relative to the piano than usual. Then I shut my eyes and the impression completely disappeared. It’s odd. Certain songs certainly seem to gain from the approach. Gretchen am Spinnrade perhaps most of all, with the piano more than ever seeming to be the spinning wheel. Another effect was it made me reconsider my impression that the piano parts in Schubert are pretty simple (in a sense they are compared to, say, Strauss) but played this way one realises that they are far from trivial.
Was it a good lieder performance, compared to a typically conventional approach? I’d say pretty decent. If we bisect Fenlon and Fenlon we can say that, as a singer Rachel has a fairly “operatic” approach to the songs supported by very good phrasing and some interesting tone colours. The texts were pretty clear too for a soprano though obviously it’s not quite like listening to a German baritone in this rep in that regard. Surtitle translations were projected behind singer/piano which is most laudable. No squinting at at tiny text in the semi-dark! As a pianist she really is most expressive. To combine the two really is remarkable.
This show is going to tour in Europe. What we saw last night was by way of a workshop and it was intriguing and enjoyable. It will be very interesting to see how it develops and whether it’s a one off or something that could be extended into other repertoire.