Oxford International Song Festival 2023

Festival of events showcasing the classical song form, for all ages and all budgets!

October 23, 2023
The Erlkings - Brings to life Schubert's musical legacy

I have enjoyed many recitals of German art songs over the years but nothing could quite have prepared me for The Erlkings. It is hard to imagine a more engaging and joyous evening of music-making. It was all the more special because of how unexpected it was.

The performance was of Schubert's lyrical masterpiece 'Die Schone Mullerin'. Written for singer and piano, it is one of the mainstays of the lieder repertoire. The Erlkings are not a traditional group. They are a folk/rock quartet of singer Bryan Benner on guitar, Thomas Toppler on percussion and vibraphone, Ivan Turkalj on cello and Simon Teurezbacher on tuba. This, at first glance, feels a very long way from Schubert's world but on closer inspection it feels absolutely right.

As you proceed through the song cycle, you realise how clever and appropriate the new arrangements are. The unusual blend in instruments brings fresh musical and interpretive insights to this very familiar work.

But what really struck me was how it showed Schubert's place in the history of popular song.

He was, as many composers are, inspired by the folk song traditional of his community as well as the popular songs of the time. And what emerges through the new arrangements is how there is a direct through line that connects Schubert to the early days of the rock and folk music of the 1950s and beyond. You could easily imagine The Everly Brothers or even Elvis performing a Schubert song in this way!

The new English translation by Bryan Benner is very faithful to the original German poems and makes you listen afresh to the songs. It captures the shifting mood of the poetry perfectly, by turns whimsical, romantic and melancholic.

What I have rarely experienced in a song recital in the way the audience were captivated throughout. There was no following along with translations, no fidgeting - just attention and engagement with the performance.

It was a masterclass on how to reimagine a classic piece for those who have known and loved it for years whilst also being a perfect introduction to art songs for the uninitiated.

It has been eight years since their last performance in Oxford. I sincerely hope there will not be another long gap before local audiences get to enjoy this unique group again.

October 16, 2023
Forbidden Fruit: Benjamin Appl's vocal risks pay off in a bold programme of music

The return of Benjamin Appl to Oxford is always something to be welcomed. He is one of the greatest interpreters of art song working today being an outstanding musician as well as a natural communicator. His new recital, Forbidden Fruit, is centred around the story of Adam and Eve but is far more eclectic and all embracing than just a trot through all things Genesis. It is a bold programme of music that explores love, lust, sensuality, transgression and the whole human experience, by turns playful and provocative, humorous and heartbreaking, comforting and challenging.

In order to bring out the rich variety in the music, Appl has to call on the full range of his vocal and acting techniques. And this is where the recital truly becomes a special event. Whether embracing the austerity of Hahn's 'A Chloris' or the naughtiness of Poulenc's 'L'Offrande', he is able to instantly shift tone and mood perfectly.

The richness of the programme comes from both from the thematic unity that links all the pieces and the contrast in musical styles employed. The melancholy of a song like 'Just a Gigolo' (Leonello Casucci) is balanced by the more challenging emotional journey of Eisler's Die Ballade vom Paragraphen 218. And this sense of balance is evident throughout.

Apple's voice is continuing to develop in fascinating ways. There is a greater richness than I have heard from him before. He can scale his sound down to an incredibly subtle whisper and almost immediately open out to a to rich, robust and powerful presence. He takes vocal risks and they pay off in spades.

Underpinning the vocal successes of the performance is the understated and secure playing of Sholto Kynoch. Far more than just an accompanist, he is an active participant in the drama of the music but never overshadows the singing. It is clear that they feel confident with one another and that allows the audience to revel in their shared music making.

One unique aspect of the event was the use of the space. The first song was delivered from the lobby of the Holywell Music Room and the evening ended with Appl at the very back of the hall behind the audience. Throughout there was a keen sense of the dramatic and the theatrical which enhanced the effect of the music. It is something I would love to see more performers embrace. It adds to the connection between audience and singer, enhancing the meaning of each song.

After a standing ovation, Appl fully embraced his inner showman to dazzle us by delivering a delicious encore - 'Die Männer sind schon die Liebe wert' by Adolf Steimel. We were absolutely left wanting more.

Review this

Share this page

© Daily Information 2024. Printed from https://www.dailyinfo.co.uk/festival/18976/oxford-international-song-festival-2023