North York Moors Chamber Music Festival: La Belle Époque, Welburn Manor Marquee, August 10
NO fewer than 11 different musicians took part in what was essentially a song-recital by mezzo-soprano Anna Huntley, devoted to ‘mélodies’ – the French answer to the German Lied – whose heyday was that prosperous period of roughly 35 years up until the First World War.
Among the composers, we enjoyed a fascinating handful of lesser lights jostling with the likes of Debussy, Ravel and Chausson.
Huntley certainly knew her way around this repertory. When singing with piano accompaniment – provided by the keenly attentive James Baillieu – she quite properly used no score. She found pathos at the centre of Duparc’s L’invitation au voyage and sustained a lovely line against Baillieu’s rippling piano. Paladilhe’s Psyché made a pleasing miniature with the voice in a largely secondary role.
Her account of Debussy’s Trois chansons de Bilitis – who was supposedly an ancient Greek poetess but was in reality a fiction created by Pierre Louÿs and fooling many classicists – was equally fluent.
The semi-recitative of ‘La flute de Pan’ and the rueful reminiscence of ‘La chevelure’ was countered by more forceful momentum in ‘Le tombeau de Naïades’. Later we had shapely Chaminade, and Viardot’s Havanaise in operetta style, with Baillieu injecting witty habanera rhythms.
But the real treats came when she had an ensemble at her side. In Chausson’s Chanson perpetuelle, violin and viola sweetly in turn echoed the vocal line and the full piano quintet helped generate considerable intensity.
Even more of a pleasure was the chance to hear Ravel’s Chansons madécasses with the flute of Claire Wickes (doubling on piccolo), alongside Jamie Walton’s cello and Daniel Lebhardt’s piano. Here was intriguing scene-painting, impressionism with exotic ethnic tints. This group was notably well-knit.
A breath-taking finale came with violinist Benjamin Baker, barely off the plane from New York, in the concertante role in Chausson’s Poème, Op 25. The early elegiac mood turned gradually more upbeat, as Baker’s soaring cantilenas and dizzying arpeggios built towards a protracted final cadence that turned from minor to major at the last gasp. A quintet, led from the piano by Katya Apekisheva, lent energetic support. Another festival gem. But Huntley had played her part superbly too, setting the fin de siècle tone.
Review by Martin Dreyer