SOPRANO TARA ERRAUGHT BRINGS GREAT VOCAL SPLENDOUR – AND IRISH CHARM TOO
Tara Erraught, mezzo-soprano; James Baillieu, piano: Vocal works of Liszt, Richard Strauss, Mahler, Quilter and Rossini, Playhouse, January 14, 2018.
We have recently seen celebrity singers such as Joyce DiDonato and Bryn Terfel create a wonderful personal engagement with their audience – making each patron feel as if the singer is communicating directly with them. This return recital with young Irish mezzo-soprano Tara Erraught achieved very much the same spell, and added a beguiling youthful charm and honesty on top of it. The obvious attraction is that Erraught sings so beautifully, with remarkable range, poise and dramatic sense. But she is such an able story-teller too, not only in introducing her repertoire to the audience but also in projecting her singing – almost as an intimate secret – to alternating sections of the right and left hand sides of the hall. Behind her is accompanist James Baillieu, a comrade every step of the way, playing with great sensitivity and imagination. This was a most fetching programme, ranging from Liszt, Mahler and Strauss to Rossini and Roger Quilter, and finishing with two loving Irish folk encores.
What impressed throughout this concert is just how much the singer sought precise dramatic characterization. This was revealed right from the opening Victor Hugo songs of Liszt, which were beautifully etched. Vocally, it was the clean strength and balance of the top of her register that stood out, sometimes embodying riveting sharpness but always ready to relax into beautifully-apportioned legato phrases. This was no more evident than in ‘Enfant, si j’étais roi’, while ‘Oh! quand je dors’ and ‘Was liebe sei?’ found additional intimacy to place with burgeoning feeling. Erraught’s ability to spring out cantabile lines and control textures in general were a consistent delight, though her tendency to move out to the loudest passages with such adrenalin and body may have challenged scale a bit. Nonetheless, it certainly revealed how strong and wondrous her voice is. One cannot underplay the sensitivity of pianist James Baillieu, who controlled his dynamics with great insight, and the Schumannesque ‘Die Lorelei’ offered a particularly sentient and compelling response from both artists.
The popular Richard Strauss songs were perhaps even finer, finding true Straussian fragrance and sensuality, and affirming the singer’s recent success in Der Rosenkavalier and Die Schweigsame Frau. ‘Allerseelen’ brought forth a most inviting lyrical fabric, while the bold, heroic tones of ‘Zueignung’ contrasted beautifully with the tender intimacy of ‘Die Nacht’. The effervescence and play in ‘Ständchen’ stood nicely beside the affecting tenderness of ‘Morgen’, while it was the lovely sense of flow that distinguished ‘Cäcilie’. In all of these songs, there was an intuitive awareness of Straussian phrase shape and the warm sweetness of the composer’s utterance. One also noted the singer’s ability to build crescendos so naturally in the longest lines while always creating a sense of anticipation in each song’s narrative.
Singing Strauss well does not always translate to Mahler, and the singer told the audience that it took some fortitude to gain the confidence to perform Lieder eines Fahrenden Gesellen in concert. Erraught’s reading featured thoughtful vocal contours and a good dramatic sense, and was fully enjoyable as an initial foray. Nonetheless, the singer still needs to go further, especially in sitting with, and suspending, the seeped lyrical line that the composer so often favours. This was evident when turning the corner of the closing ‘Die zwei blauen Augen’, which needed even more distilled tenderness and graceful ease. There were many moments of pristine articulation in the earlier songs, but I could not avoid the feeling that ‘Wen mein Schatz’ was slightly overeager and ‘Ging heut’ morgen’ was slightly more clipped than it might be. Perhaps all that is needed is a slight release in control, and I am sure this will come with future performances.
Any deficiencies here were easily offset by the singer’s engagement in three Quilter songs, and the little-known Rossini cantata ‘Giovanni d’Arco’ (that Cecilia Bartoli also championed). The former had an absolutely wonderful vocal freedom and ardour while the cantata displayed Erraught’s sterling style in the Italian repertoire and her emotional range in moving from inward contemplation to the delights of coloratura display. The cleanness and solidity of her runs evince the highest level of technique.
Erraught’s encores naturally took us back to Ireland, with very beautiful and committed traversals of the ever-popular ‘Gortnamona' and 'Danny Boy’ – a touching end to a fully captivating recital.
© Geoffrey Newman 2018