19/8/09, Queen's Hall (Edinburgh Festival)
American counter-tenor and highly accomplished Brit accompanist in a programme of (mainly) English song, plus some Haydn settings of English words and a Beethoven cycle. Mehta has a lovely voice, though some of the Purcell at the start seemed to lie a little low for him. I was grateful for the words in the programme, not just for the translation from the German but also for the English since he's not hot on letting you hear the words.
Leider used to be one of the two things I automatically turned off when it came on Radio 3 (the other was jazz) but I'm starting to get the picture. Listen with sufficient care (and with the words to hand) and the whole thing becomes engrossing: the combination of musical effects and poetry, the singer's interpretation. A lot of the words, frankly, are pretty rubbish. But the Haydn included a positively brilliant setting of Shakespeare's "She never told her love" (which includes the phrases "worm in the bud" and "like Patience on a monument") from Twelfth Night: how odd that a comedy, in the hands of a composer like Haydn, should produce something so dramatic and dark and moving. On the other hand the words to Beethoven's "Auf dem Hugel sitz ich, spahend", by someone called Alois Jeitteles, seemed like the worst sort of derivative, self-indulgent romantic rubbish, though that didn't stop Ludwig producing something of great dramatic force and seductiveness.
The 20th century composers tended to choose lyrics of considerable quality in their own right. I'm not sure Vaughan Williams's Linden Lea qualifies (words by William Barnes, though English'd from the original dreadful Dorset dialect) but Lennox Berkeley's setting of de la Mare's The Horseman fits the description; so does Stanford's setting (also electrifyingly dramatic) of Keats's La Belle Dame Sans Merci; and Ivor Gurney's of Yeats's Down by the Salley Gardens.
There were a couple of very fast Peter Warlocks which I didn't "get"; and Vaughan Williams's Silent Noon (lyric by Dante Rossetti) which left me cold.
Otherwise it was a stunner.
Observations. Mobile phones are a curse: one rang out during the Gurney; and then again during Silent Noon which followed it, and Mehta stopped and started again, not unreasonably. The Queen's Hall audience is very elderly: we were about the youngest there. And though respectful and almost as quiet as the Wigmore Hall tribe, they are going deaf: the coughs started before the last dying note of Linden Lea had faded away; ditto the page turning after Herbert Howells' The Widow Bird. Whoever printed the programme had decided to transpose two lines in La Belle Dame... "She took me to her elfin grot, And there she wept, and sigh'd full sore. And there I shut her wild wild eyes And made sweet moan" it read: it should be "With kisses four", with "And made sweet moan" at the end of an earlier stanza, but you can see why they did it.