Sometimes a concert - no matter how professional and dedicated the performers - just does not take flight. And this was one such occasion. Connolly is one of the great singers of her generation.
I tried hard to pinpoint what came between me and the programme.
Was it the venue? SJE is a regular concert space in the city - playing host to many forms of music-making. But acoustically I would have to say that it did not work to Connolly's advantage. Whilst the piano came through with clarity and precision, her warm mezzo seemed to lack focus in the space - rendering her diction (which normally is exemplary) very fuzzy. In a form of music that relies so heavily on text, the loss of the words is almost unforgivable.
Eugene Asti is certainly one of the leading accompanists working in the world today. He is a great pianist. But I found myself being distracted by his mannerisms at the keyboard. I appreciate that he is giving a performance as well as the singer but his role is - I would argue - to support rather than to dominate. I was drawn to him far more than I have ever been in a lieder recital before - and that was an issue for me.
I do think that programme choice was key to all of this. The English Songbook is a title that should give singer and pianist scope to produce a very varied and broad programme - giving the audience the chance to hear a range of songs. We certainly had a range of time periods represented - nearly two centuries of song. But tonally there was a lack of variety. It was earnest, frequently solemn but never, and perhaps this is key, heartfelt.
Connolly is a fantastic singer. I had the privilege of working with her back in the 1990s in a production of Dido and Aeneas. I know she has an outstanding voice and can deliver brilliant interpretations of opera, lieder and more. But I did not feel any connection between her and her choice of material. It was technically very well sung. But as an audience member, I was not drawn into the world of each song and thus it became a very sterile experience for me.
In a more intimate space, this might have been a different experience. It is impossible to say. But I have rarely felt so disappointed at the end of a concert. There was plenty of enthusiasm in the room for the performances. But it was an enthusiasm that I could not share. The material did not work for me, the singing did not engage me (mainly, I think, due to the acoustic) and thus it failed to move me. And this form of music making is all about the connection that you as an individual audience member should feel to the material chosen and how it is delivered. No matter how brilliant the performers, the lack of connection is fatal. Others clearly did enjoy it - which is great for them. I did not - and that is a bitter disappointment.