I returned to the Lieder Festival for my second concert of the day with a recital of French and English song by Dame Sarah Connolly accompanied by Julius Drake.
One of the innovations at the Festival is that each of the evening concerts gives a showcase to two emerging artists at the start of their careers. Fifteen minutes to present yourself is a hugely exciting opportunity for young singers and pianists – Charles Cunliffe (bass-baritone) and Gus Tredwell (piano) seized this opportunity and opened the programme with songs from George Butterworth's A Shropshire Lad. These settings of Housman's poems are packed with character and a real feeling for the landscape. Cunliffe used his rich and round voice to bring both sides of the music to life and was very ably supported by Tredwell throughout. You could sense their excitement at having this platform – long may the Festival support young artists like this.
The main body of the programme was Sarah Connolly's interpretation of Berlioz's cycle Les nuits d'été. A collection of songs about love and loss, the shifting seasons and the ever changing natural world.
It takes a real artist to fully engage with these songs. They place significant demands on both singer and pianist. The audience was incredibly lucky to have two international superstars to lead them through the cycle with assurance and maturity.
Connolly really captured the youthful vigour of the opening Villanelle and then modulated perfectly to the darker moods of the subsequent songs. It was an intelligent and engaged interpretation that kept the audience fully absorbed. She was, of course, supported throughout by one of the great accompanists of his generation. Julius Drake found new moments in each of the songs and added new meaning to the vocal line by his sympathetic playing.
They completed their programme with songs by Herbert Howells and John Ireland. Repertoire, I must admit, that was new to me. But that is the joy of the Festival – making those new discoveries that will live on in your memory. It was the Ireland settings of Hardy and Sidney that made the most lasting impression on me. Two very special pieces of music.
After an encore of a little known Britten song, all four musicians returned to the stage to perform an Fauré duet. The generosity of spirit in this music-making was appreciated by everyone in the room. Charles Cunliffe could not disguise his delight at performing alongside such well-established and well-loved collaborators. It was a warm and touching end to a beautiful day of song.