Review: Leeds Lieder’s Weekend of Song Streaming from Leeds Town Hall until May 8th

CANADIAN bass-baritone Gerald Finley and British pianist Julius Drake have been feted at major concert venues around the world for over two decades.

Leeds Lieder online audiences are being treated to a preview of the celebrated partnership’s upcoming release of Schubert’s song cycle Die schöne Müllerin - the Fair Maid of the Mill. The set of twenty songs takes the listener on an emotional big dipper of boundless joy, anguish and ultimately desolation, as realisation dawns on the poet that his love for the miller’s daughter is fruitless.

Finley and Drake exquisitely reveal the tiniest nuance of mood in these evocative songs. Finley’s body language and his projection of the text are mesmeric. The Grammy award winning singer deploys his velvety, rich and muscular timbre to plumb the depths of emotion in Wilhelm Müller’s poems.

Finley and Drake’s ravishing interpretation burns with a visceral intensity that had me pinned to my sofa. Bass-baritone Michael Mofidian joined Finley on stage for the poet’s final “Dialogue with the Brook”. Mofidian, who is attached to the Momentum Young Artists programme, also sang the serenely beautiful concluding Des Baches wiegenlied - Of the Brook’s Lullaby.

In the first part of the concert, Mofidian and Momentum young pianist Jâms Coleman had performed Brahms’s Four Serious Songs.

The following evening, operatic superstar and consummate recitalist, Dame Sarah Connolly and pianist Joseph Middleton showcased their versatility in a generous, wide ranging programme of songs by Mahler, Chausson, John Ireland, EJ Moeran, Ivor Gurney and Edward Elgar. Connolly is a famed Mahler interpreter as amply demonstrated on this occasion by the warmth and freshness of four songs from Des Knaben Wunderhorn - the Boy’s Magic Horn. The voice bloomed with radiance and sweetness in Chausson’s song cycle Poeme de l’amour et de la mer - literally the Poem of Love and the Sea.

Sir Edward Elgar’s very British view of the sea, the song cycle Sea Pictures, was premiered at the Norwich Festival in 1899 with the statuesque Dame Clara Butt as the contralto soloist. Today’s great Dame brings her elegant phrasing and infinite tone colouring to the poems of Roden Noel, Alice Elgar, Richard Garnett and Elizabeth Barrett Browning. The intuitive Joseph Middleton creates a resplendent backdrop. Middleton makes the piano sound like a full orchestra.

Momentum Young Artist, the soprano Julia Mariko Smith, joined Connolly and Middleton for an encore: the two voices were gorgeously interwoven in Pleurs D’or, Opus 72, by Gabriel Fauré.