Yesterday’s lunchtime recital in the RBA featured three current members of the COC Ensemble Studio. First up was tenor Aaron Sheppard making his adieux with Finzi’s A Young Man’s Exhortation; a setting of texts by Thomas Hardy. It’s an interesting cycle; quite spare with, despite its lack of density, an intricate piano part that reveals some interesting chromaticism. The vocal line calls for great delicacy and control with occasionally injections of power. We got all that in a very fine performance by Aaron, and by Stéphane Mayer at the piano. It was probably the best performance I’ve heard from Aaron. He’s always had a rather beautiful, but perhaps too delicate voice. Here the control, phrasing and emphasis was all there but so was some oomph when needed. His performance was very true to the texts which have that same quality that Houseman exudes; Merry England with Death just peeking in from around the corner when one least expects it. Good stuff.
Next up was Megan Quick and Hyejin Kwon with selections from Robert Fleming’s The Confession Stone to texts by Owen Dodson. They texts narrate the life of Jesus from Mary’s point of view which is interesting. The music, composed in 1966, could easily have been written fifty or sixty years earlier but for a slight bluesy tinge. And that last element really suited Megan’s voice. For here we have a true contralto I think. She has high notes but it’s the quality of the lower registers that are striking. There’s a richness and depth and a touch of that quality one hears in really fine gospel singers. Definitely one to watch.
For the final set Hyejin was joined by Sam Pickett singing selections from Barber’s Hermit Songs. Here the texts are short passages, mostly marginalia, written by Irish monks. The music is as enigmatic as the texts. Classic Barber. I was particularly taken by the weird textures of the piano part in The crucifixion beautifully brought out by Hyejin. There was drama and intensity too in Sea-snatch which played well to the sheer power of Sam’s voice. And there’s simplicity and delicacy in settings like The monk and his cat (which might be my theme song though my cat is grey). It was a very satisfactory way to close out an interesting and varied concert.
Photo credit: Kevin Lloyd.