Review: Anne Sofie von Otter, Steven Isserlis and Bengt Forsberg, Snape Maltings, Snape Proms, August 14

This was an evening broadly given over to music on a smaller scale, including some distinctly unfamiliar names. In the first half the songs were entirely from Scandinavia, particularly Sweden, an appropriate choice, given that both mezzo soprano and pianist are from that country. None of the songs by Peterson-Berger, Stenhammar or Alfven were from the top drawer but there were touches of individuality and expertise that raised them above mere salon music. Sibelius, a premier league figure by any reckoning, is not primarily remembered for his songs but genius will out and the opening of ‘Solitude’ was eerily reminiscent of the rustling string passages in his orchestral works. Anne Sofie von Otter was understandably entirely at home with these pieces and she sang them with unforced ease and clarity, giving an extra shine to Grieg’s extrovert Og jeg vil.

Julius Isserlis, grandfather of Steven, was driven out of both Russia and Vienna before settling in London in 1938. His Ballade for cello and piano was dedicated to Casals and Stephen Isserlis perfectly captured its fluctuating moods – nostalgic, lyrical, passionate and folksy. Two slight but attractive pieces by Glazunov gave pianist Bengt Forsberg a good opportunity to demonstrate his dexterity and impeccable taste.

The second half opened with three songs by Faure, whose restrained and subtle compositional style makes him easy to underestimate. The performances made a strong impression, enhanced by Forsberg’s arrangement to include a cello which was played with great eloquence by Isserlis. Two introspective pieces for piano and cello, an arrangement of a Chopin song and a piece by Franchomme were perhaps too similar at this stage. Songs by the unfamiliar Reynaldo Hahn, one unremarkable and the other fun, brought us to Liszt’s transcription of Isolde’s Liebestod. Reservations as to whether it would fit comfortably into the programme proved unfounded. Forsberg played superbly, avoiding the grand gesture, so that the performance made its usual emotional impact while maintaining the intimate atmosphere of the evening. Traume, the last of the Wesendonck Lieder was a delight, sung with real warmth and feeling by von Otter.

And then it was time for something completely different – a medley of Lennon and McCartney songs, arranged for soprano, cello and piano and demonstrating the eclecticism and versatility of the performers. It was all done with great skill and elan and the concert ended in interesting contrast to the mood and place in which it had begun.

Gareth Jones

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