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Oxford Lieder Festival 2010

The UK's biggest celebration of song
Various Venues. Fri 15th Oct - Sat 30th Oct

October 26, 2010
The Bevan Sisters (Mary and Sophie)
You will know that Oxford is a very civilised place. One of its cultural delights is the Lieder Festival, an “annual two-week extravaganza” of song. A highlight of the Festival this year just has to have been Mary and Sophie Bevan's concert, presented to a packed and enthusiastic audience at the Holywell Music Room last night. 

A delightful first half featured enchanting songs by Mendelssohn, Brahms, and Schumann. I found the former’s interpretation of a death-bed poem by Robert Burns very moving, as it was lovingly sung by the two well-matched sopranos. But the highlight of the half for me was Die Schwestern (The Sisters), from a poem by Mörike, set to music by Brahms. The first four stanzas describe how alike two sisters are, an impression enhanced by the performers’ interpretations, but in the final verse they reveal that they love the same man and their expressions change as the music turns dissonant. The sisters ended the half with Schumann’s Die Schwalben (The Swallows), a chirping pair with a catchy tune and an accompaniment which has a staccato fourth quaver in most bars to cleverly give the sense of the swallows’ flight.

After the interval, we were sung songs by Saint-Saens, Debussy, Gounod and Faure. There was spontaneous laughter and applause at the end of L’arithmetique, a poem by Marzial, set to music by Gounod, which warns of the perils of not being able to do sums. We laughed because they sang in very childish voices which matched the sentiments of the words exactly.

They finished the concert with Faure’s La Tarentelle, an uncharacteristic setting of a poem by Monnier, a wild song about a wild dance, which the composer had written as a duet for his mistress and her sister.  A great choice for a stirring ending, but there was an encore, of course.  Mary and Sophie performed a magical renaissance “little Latin prayer”, a family favourite which was the first duet they ever did sing. It was simply stunning.

We will hear more of these two exceptional emerging talents. Those who heard them sing Susanna and Barbarina in The Marriage of Figaro at Garsington this year will confirm that view, I’m sure. Sholto Kynoch accompanied them brilliantly on the Steinway, and I could have stayed there and listened to it all again.

The Oxford Lieder Festival continues to 30th October. For details see www.oxfordlieder.co.uk
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