Leeds Lieder Festival, James Newby and Joseph Middleton, The Venue, Leeds College of Music, Thursday 25th April 2019

Leeds Lieder has packed a veritable banquet of recitals, masterclasses, “bring and sing” rehearsals for all, pre-concert talks and composer forums into its annual four-day Festival. International artists gracing this year’s event have included singers Angelika Kirchschlager, Amanda Roocroft, Fatma Said, Nicky Spence, Samuel Hasselhorn, Miah Persson and Dame Ann Murray with pianists Graham Johnson, Malcolm Martineau and Leeds Lieder director Joseph Middleton.

Sickness sadly forced German baritone Benjamin Appl to cancel just hours before this concert. James Newby is one of the current crop of exciting young British singers. Luckily, he was available to step in and save the day.

Newby and Middleton opened with Schubert’s three songs Gesange des Harfners or The Enigmatic Harpist (1822). Two mournful laments and a vale of tears revealed the infinite shading of Newby’s lustrous dark baritone and Middleton’s multi-layered piano accompaniment in the bright acoustic of this 360 seat auditorium.

Five Ravel settings, his delightful Histoires naturelles, lightened the mood. The songs include the poet’s encounters with a peacock, cricket, swan, kingfisher and guinea fowl. Newby’s conversational style and Middleton’s telling detail virtually lifted the animals from the pages of the score.

James Newby then delivered a remarkable insight into three wonderful songs by Henri Duparc - the calmness and resignation of Extase, the thrilling intensity of La vague et la cloche (The wave and the bell) and the sun drenched tenderness of Phydile.

Vaughan Williams’ nine Songs of Travel are taken from poems by Robert Louis Stevenson. In mood and atmosphere they range from the bold swaggering confidence of The Vagabond, to the sighing beauty of In Dreams, and the nobility of Bright is the Ring of Words. Newby’s genius for story telling brought these engaging songs to life. Singer and pianist rewarded the vociferous audience applause with an animated performance of Wolsey Charles and Greatex Newman’s The Green-eyed Dragon.

Geoffrey Mogridge