Four Hands and Four Voices

Royal Conservatoire of Scotland
Glasgow
October 22nd 2018


The Ledger Recital Room at the Royal Conservatoire is the perfect venue for the RCS’s popular Mondays at One series, with its striking open space and fantastic acoustics. For today’s performance (22 October) the stage was set with a grand piano and four sets of chairs with music stands. Entering from the back, the singers took their places – two male and two female voices, with the pianists (Timothy Dean and Geoffrey Tandi) seated at the piano – the four hands. They were to perform love songs from those two masters of the Romantic movement, Johannes Brahms and Robert Schumann.

A short introduction by Timothy reminded us of the power of music to express deep emotions and tell a heartfelt story which would include darkness and anguish as well as the transformative effects of love. Firstly Brahms with his Liebsleider Waltzer Op 52, a collection of love songs said to have been inspired by Schumann, whom he greatly admired. The lyrics are taken from folk songs and love poems. Schumann’s Spansche Liebsleider Op 138, is a cycle of 10 love songs written in 1840, the year after he married his wife Clara.

First up were Catrin Woodruff (Soprano), Lea Show (Mezzo-soprano), Robin Horgan (Tenor) and Rhys Thomas (Bass), rising to perform the Brahms songs in various different combinations – solos, duets, quartets, their voices soaring beautifully to fill the wooden auditorium. They sang to us, stirring and absorbing us, commanding our attention in a theatrical, operatic way. The lyrics flowed over us in a deluge of themes and ideas, with the backdrop screen translating from the German to aid our understanding.  “…if in her happiness, she thinks of me…” expressed all the hopes of the heart that love would conquer all. As I observed each singer I found myself transfixed by the power of voices and how each singer moved in different ways to reach the height and the depths of vocal intensity.

As we moved on to the Schumann pieces, four new singers took to the stage, Sara Neally (Soprano), Carolyn Holt (Mezzo-soprano), Matthew McKinney (Tenor) and Arthur Bruce (Baritone), introducing a somewhat lighter, livelier tone, giving us a fresh perspective on the familiar theme. “She’s as fair as the flowers, as angry as the sea” telling of the contradictions and unanswered questions that tormented the composer, and the irony of “I would have become a monk long ago if it weren’t for woman”. The vocals always being guided by the piano as they wove their complex story in different combinations; a solo here, a duet there, a quartet, an intermezzo where the piano played alone.

By the time the artists took their bows, to enthusiastic applause, I felt I’d been told a story encompassing whole lifetimes of emotion and experience, alongside some truly magnificent music, from slow, almost mourning, melodies, to great storms of sound or lively joyful strains which lifted the heart. I had found myself captivated by each singer in turn, fascinated by all the different ways in which they brought their performances to life, either solo or interacting with each other. The translations by Eric James and Emily Ezurt also enhanced my enjoyment, meaning I could enjoy the German culture while being able to appreciate the significance of the words. And then there was the piano with its duo of players, providing the perfect, unifying, final piece of the jigsaw.

‘Four Hands and Four Voices’ was the ideal way to spend 55 minutes. If you have an hour to spare at lunch time in Glasgow, take yourself along to the Royal Conservatoire for ‘Mondays at One’. Each Monday lunchtime is a little gem in itself, a perfectly formed one-hour chamber recital featuring world class musicians and the very best of music. Come along and be inspired, uplifted and refreshed.

Daniel Donnelly

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