Review: Catriona Morison and Joseph Middleton, Howard Assembly Room, Leeds, Thursday 31st January 2019

CATRIONA Morison is the first British artist to be crowned BBC Cardiff Singer of the World. The young Edinburgh born mezzo soprano, a “wildcard” finalist in the 2017 competition, scooped both the coveted Main Prize and the Song Prize - the latter as joint winner. For her Leeds recital debut presented by Leeds Lieder and Opera North, Morison’s programme of (mainly) German lieder was illuminated by the projection of English surtitles.

The recital opened with a selection of Brahms settings including Dein blaues Auge (Your blue eyes), an ardent expression of the effect of blue eyes. An die Nachtigall (To the Nightingale) expressed a yearning for love tinged with a feeling of loneliness. Mein Liebe ist grun (My love is as green..) is a passionate song based on words by Felix Schumann, youngest child of Robert Schumann. Morison’s innate feeling for the music and her colouring of words showed just much that she inhabits these songs. Schumann’s five Mary Stuart Songs are settings of verses (supposedly) written by the Scottish Queen herself. Morison’s grave dignity created a sense of total involvement in Mary’s terrible situation, just hours before her execution.

The singer’s intelligent phrasing and earthy sweetness of tone evoked the scent of lime blossom in Ich atmet’ einen linden Duft (I breathed a gentle fragrance) the second of Gustav Mahler’s beautiful Ruckert Lieder. Liebst du um Schonheit (If you love for beauty), Mahler’s charming love song for his wife Alma, was infused with such tenderness. Un Mitternacht (At Midnight) projected by Morison in all its sombre grandeur, is perhaps the best known of the set. Ich bin der welt abhanden gekommen (I have lost touch with the world) became an exquisitely controlled expression of resignation and regret. The clarity of detail and dynamic shading in Joseph Middleton’s subtly hued accompaniment banished all thoughts of Mahler’s orchestration of these songs.

This wonderful recital finished in more optimistic mood and a quick switch from German to English with Erich Korngold’s Funf Lieder (Five Songs) Opus 38 from 1947. The audience clamour was rewarded with a delicious performance of Brahms' Standchen.

Geoffrey Mogridge