Classical / Renee Fleming The Queen's Hall

Renee Fleming's debut recital at the Edinburgh Festival was generously conceived and enthusiastically received: Lieder by Schubert and Schumann were followed after the interval by recent American settings of poems by Emily Dickinson, five melodies by Faure and Joaquin Turina's rather less well-known Tres Poemas. This soprano wields an astonishing, rich voice which is capable of dazzlingly varied colours. She also possesses a formidable technique and has the potential for a career on the concert platform as great as on the stage. Her manner is both engaging and authoritative.

There was considerable charm in the way she relished the words of the Schubert songs in excellent, idiomatic German. Her evocation of Ganymede seduced by Jove was transporting. It seemed that we could hear the cool moonlight of Nacht und Traume. The religious ecstasy of the young nun just escaped her, however: she substituted an easy naivete that was not quite the point. On the other, she had the full measure of Schumann's settings of Robert Burns's poems and presented a consistent character, the Proud Captain's Lady, that came across with a great deal of conviction. Naturally enough, the American settings of Emily Dickinson suited her: in particular, Ricky Ian Gordon's "Will There Really Be a Morning?" scored a great hit. I think most people in the audience would like to hear it again. The rest of the recital demonstrated her versatility but also showed up a weakness: with all her gifts there is a danger of blandness. Occasionally she settles for an easy success.

This trait is not apparent on her new CD of Mozart's arias for Decca, where every number is given a radically different character. In Edinburgh, however, in the intimate space of the Queen's Hall, Faure's Love Song emerged as a trivial ditty, which was a pity. It may be that her pianist, Helen Yorke, has not yet helped her to gain complete mastery of the French and Spanish idioms. Fleming made the most of Faure's "Apres un reve" and demonstrated a virtuoso control of line in Turina's vocalise. Her first encore, Richard Strauss's Caecilie, reminded us of her true mastery of Lied. The final encore, a brilliant rendition of Duke Ellington's "It Don't Mean a Thing If It Ain't Got That Swing", was so completely successful in terms of her partnership with her pianist and in terms of her own performance that it suggested there may be a whole other dimension to both their talents which they have yet to incorporate into their concert work: the freedom to manoeuvre that comes from feeling at home with your material. This concert was recorded and will be broadcast later on Radio 3.

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