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Simon Keenlyside & Malcolm Martineau Songs By Schubert, Wolf, Fauré and Ravel Review

Album. Released 2009.  

BBC Review

A successful document of the occasion.

Andrew McGregor 2009

Simon Keenlyside has already established himself as one of the most intelligently communicative singers onstage at the moment, from Britten’s Billy Budd or Berg’s Wozzeck, to the more rarefied atmosphere of a song recital such as this one, at London’s Wigmore Hall in 2008.

With pianist Malcolm Martineau in similarly sensitive form, the recital begins with a group of six Schubert songs, and the sense that rather than being overwhelmed with colour and characterisation, something subtler is happening; somehow you’re being invited to step into a more gently nuanced and delicately observed world, where the expressive weight of each phrase is being judged to perfection, with not a gram of emotional excess. It’s intimate, and unforced, and somehow still feels natural rather than contrived.

But it’s with the half dozen songs that follow by Hugo Wolf that this recital begins to become really special, with Keenlyside revelling in the spare textures and startling harmonic juxtapositions – and Martineau sounds inspired, alive to the singer’s every gesture.

The second half of their recital is French: eight Fauré songs, with a lovely lightness of touch and growing sensuality. Then there’s Ravel’s Histoires naturelles, satirical vignettes of four birds and an insect described with delicious detail, sly humour, and a storyteller’s eye and ear for detail. Virtuoso performances here from two master craftsmen. The encore, Poulenc’s Hotel – introduced by Keenlyside (in the composer’s words) as: “the laziest song ever written” – is luxuriously languorous. Despite the coughs and splutters of the October audience, everything has been recorded with warmth and impressive immediacy.

The critics and concertgoers will say you had to be there, but this is such a successful document of the occasion that you might honestly end up feeling that you were… and can be again, and again.

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