Sarah Connolly, St John's, Smith Square, London

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The Independent Culture

But this isn't an easy venue. Something ought to be done about the lighting on the bright red backdrop curtain; it's far too intense. Then there is the long walk through the hall from the artist area. And because Connolly's recital was being recorded for commercial release and the texts were to hand, she was stuck behind a music stand for the night. That, in itself, had the psychological effect of coming between us and her.

But the voice was certainly on stage in Haydn's dramatic scena "Ariadne on Naxos", her mezza voce well deployed in service of Ariadne's keening lamentations. The aria was beautiful and the cry of anguish - "Barbaro ed infidel" ("cruel and faithless") - exciting.

St John's is a big space, but it embraces the voice at all dynamics. Connolly's Brahms set illustrated that - the sheer sound, the way the voice so naturally wraps around the lines, was lovely. One could warm to her simple inflection of the wistful "Du unten im Tale" ("Down there in the valley") and the tender "Die Mainacht" ("May Night"). Yet I never felt truly "connected". Could it be that Connolly needs the added dimension of a living "character"? The dialogue in the Brahms song "Of Eternal Love" was certainly brought into sharp relief.

With the caresses and enticements of the Reynaldo Hahn songs - particularly "To Chloris" and "The Loved One" - the venue was again not conducive to the intimate style. Erich Korngold fared better. The theatricality of "Requiem" - a song in love with death, harmonically heavy with the sleep of death - deployed not only the full depth of her contralto register but elicited an altogether more intense emotional response.

Connolly's pianist Eugene Asti came into his own with the Korngold and certainly had the informal manner of Kurt Weill's American theatre songs in his fingers. Connolly needed to lose the music stand and sex-up the delivery, though she embraced "Lost in the Stars" - the most beautiful melody Weill ever wrote - with evident affection.

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