Concert review

Philip Smith (baritone) with Siobhan O’Higgins (piano)

25th February 2019

Philip Smith introduced a good Penrith Music Club audience on Monday 25th February to the strange collection of songs which are Schubert’s Schwanengesang, or ‘Swansong’, while acknowledging the excellent programme notes already provided; along with his accompanist he set out to chart a fluent way through these disparate songs, allowing the genius of Schubert to shine through clearly, the accompaniments particularly showing a range from conventional to quite progressive – brought out with great skill by Siobhain O’Higgins.

Throughout all these songs of lost love, Philip’s honeyed baritone voice showed immense control, particularly in the sustained verse endings of ‘In der Ferne’ – appropriately ‘In the Distance’. True, the final song of this collection jars somewhat in its rather pretty conceit of a love bird, but both performers made a convincing case for the merits of Schubert’s final musical utterances.

The ‘flip-side’ of their programme was a fine survey of settings of Shakespeare, starting with the iconic ‘Orpheus’ of Vaughan Williams. It was a pleasure to hear Madeleine Dring’s unique pleasant style, matched by settings by the near contemporary, Geoffrey Bush, Dominic Argento’s bell-tolling ‘Come away, death’ was the more poignant for knowing of his recent death. Korngold is not a composer to associate with Shakespeare and his settings were in stark contrast to the sumptuous film scores for which he is generally known.

Settings by Finzi, Warlock and Quilter completed the purview, all delivered with appropriate energy and involvement by both singer and accompanist. Tying it up, Philip gave us Schubert’s Shakesperean ‘take’ ‘Who is Sylvia?’ further responding to the audience’s enthusiasm and prompting from Siobhain, sent us on our way with a most affecting performance of Shubert’s ‘Wanderers Song of the Night’.

While some may say that Philip lacked some expression in the Schubert cycle – and he did not help himself by referring to a score – this reviewer took the view that his tone, diction and straight delivery, combined with the excellent accompaniment, served to show Schubert’s final genius.

Charles Ritchie

Updated on 19th March 2019. Contact webmaster
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