Live review Amanda Roocroft Wigmore Hall, London
Writer and broadcaster Edward Seckerson is Chief Classical Music and Opera Critic for The Independent. He wrote and presented the long-running BBC Radio 3 series Stage & Screen, in which he interviewed many of the most prominent writers and stars of musical theatre. He appears regularly on BBC Radio 3 and 4. On television, he has commentated a number of times at the Cardiff Singer of the World competition. He has published books on Mahler and the conductor Michael Tilson Thomas, and has been on Gramophone Magazine's review panel for many years. Edward presented the 2007 series of the Radio 4 music quiz Counterpoint. He has interviewed everyone from Leonard Bernstein to Liza Minelli; from Paul McCartney to Pavarotti: from Julie Andrews to Jessye Norman.
Friday 16 February 1996
Tuesday's Wigmore Hall recital was sold out. The atmosphere was welcoming, expectant, the programme of Haydn, Schubert, Strauss, Falla and Britten well chosen, rich in opportunity. But even before the Haydn scena Berenice, che fai? had run its course, the doubts and impatience began to set in. The vibrant timbre of the voice is arresting, full of dramatic potential right down to the grainy mix in the lower register, a kind of chesting effect without the stress and strain. But it's one colour, one pitch of intensity. No specifics. A generalised expression ("with feeling"), which tells us nothing about Berenice's plight, except to say - well, actually, she's just like all the others.
And so to Schubert. And were these songs to be just like all the others? Roocroft chose a lovelorn five, which may not have been wise from the point of view of variety, but then again they're different songs, each a world of its own. The accomplished lieder singer will find the way in, inhabit the text, use the colour of individual words and phrases to engender mood, atmosphere. But Roocroft cares little for word-colour or, if she does, is unaware of how poorly she projects it. The words of a song like Schubert's Heimliches Lieben - a song about feelings too intense to be expressed - should burn their way into one's consciousness.
Roocroft has to find more variety, more nuance in her lieder singing. Malcolm Martineau showed her the way into Strauss's Morgen, placing, floating, pedalling his introduction to perfection, but her reluctance, or inability, to pick up on the nocturnal, after-hours intimacy of his playing was symptomatic of her shortcomings. Even one listener is too many for this song. She should be aware of it as a shared confidence and find the dynamic subtleties to convey that. But, again, it was left to Martineau to "voice" the silence, the unanswered question, in its closing page.
Roocroft can sing very prettily. Strauss suits her well when it's youthful, playful, springlike (memories of her precocious operatic debut as Sophie in Der Rosenkavalier). She seemed at home, too, in a song by Falla, Nana, etching in the fioritura of the line charmingly. Mind you, she might still have been singing in that strange universal tongue of hers: only one line of Spanish came right off the page, in the song Polo, and for a moment the Roocroft chest-voice smouldered. But otherwise the sameness of the delivery, the absence of character and personality was dispiriting. One can applaud her for including Britten's On This Island, but where was the irony, the cynicism of the Auden poems? Buried somewhere in that elusive word - artistry.
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