Monday, 11 April 2016

Sequins and substance (Fleming/Höll)

Renée Fleming and Hartmut Höll (Barbican)

Renée comes high up the list of divas for me. And in her brand-new Vivienne Westwood gown, replete with more sequins than I've ever seen before, perhaps more than anyone has seen before, she even moved up the list a bit. The programme, however, demonstrated substance as well as style.

The first half of the evening was a cycle by Schumann Frauenliebe und leben, not so commonly performed, which sings of wifely devotion to a husband; Renée stressed it was, to her mind, about love. One irritating element was that the supertitles showed a different (I suspect older) translation which did not do much justice to the interpretation placed on them. The text in the programme (by Richard Stokes) appeared newer and better, and more importantly made sense. So perfectly sung were these that the view they were about love rather than obedience was convincing, in a way text alone might not persuade.

After the interval some utterly exquisite Rachmaninov.  Firstly, 'In the Silence of the Secret Night' with delicacy and beauty built up the tension again instantly. A setting of Pushkin's sorrowful 'Sing to me no more, beautiful maiden', was heart breaking too. After more Rachmaninov, some Strauss, of which the most astonishing was 'Allerseelen', 'All Soul's Day' which might extract a tear from a stone. These sad songs seemed to suit Renée's voice perfectly.

A selection of works by Patricia Barber drew together the formal programme. How well these worked is harder to say. 'Higher' written from Barber's mother's deathbedside was heartbreaking.

Three encores would have been worth admission alone. Firstly 'Summer time' took us towards the most perfect song and the most perfect aria (perhaps) in existence. There is a specific sound an audience makes when told they are about to hear 'O mio babbino caro'. And Renée made this so perfect almost silently at the very top.

Then, to finish, because nothing could follow it, Strauss's 'Morgen'. Joyce sang this last April, and a bit of me is still there quite frankly; I wouldn't really like to choose between the two.

All of this was accompanied judiciously and beautifully by Hartmut Höll. Each note placed with apparently endless care and delicacy, so letting Renée shine in her sequins. Both were in deep symbiosis.

Schumann  Frauenliebe und leben, Op 42  
Rachmaninov 'In the Silence of the Secret Night' Op 4.3
Rachmaninov 'Sing to me no more, beautiful maiden Op 4.4
Rachmaninov 'Water Lily' - Op 8.1
Rachmaninov 'Twilight' - Op 21. 3
Rachmaninov Spring Waters' - Op 14 no. 11
Strauss 'Das Bachlein', Op 88 No 1
Strauss 'Ruhe, meine seele', Op 21 No 7
Strauss 'Allerseelen', Op 10
Strauss 'Meinem Kinde', Op 37 No3
Strauss 'Zueignung', Op 10 No 1
Patricia Barber 'Higher'
Patricia Barber 'Scream'
Patricia Barber 'Hunger'
Patricia Barber 'Morpheus'
Patricia Barber 'You Gotta Go Home'

1. Summertime
2. O mio babbino caro
3. Morgen

Renée Fleming soprano
Hartmut Höll piano

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