Tuesday, 23 March 2010

HONG KONG ARTS FESTIVAL: Simone Osborne Lieder Recital

Hong Kong Arts Festival 2010
SIMON OSBORNE Lieder Recital
with Andrea Grant, Piano
Hong Kong City Hall Theatre
Thursday (11 March 2010)

One big difference between the annual arts festivals in Hong Kong and Singapore is that the former has not neglected the charms and pleasures afforded in a simple and straight-forward musical event. For all the newfangled trans-disciplinary collaborations and experiments that take centrestage in the Singapore Arts Festival, sometimes simpler is better. The Lieder recital by young Canadian soprano Simone Osborne was a case in point.

Within a compact 50 minutes without an interval, the utterly personable soprano gave a no-nonsense display of her credentials (including the Marilyn Horne prize in 2008), in songs by Franz Liszt (in French), Robert Schumann and Richard Strauss. She possesses a bigger voice than her slightly-more-than-petite built suggest, and able to transcend high registers easily without loss of control. A number of the Liszt chansons, notably Enfant, si jetais roi (Child, if I were king), have substantial piano parts filled with rumbling octaves and chords, but these were no impediment to her projection of words. Her dramatic capabilities also served well Comment, disaient-ils (How then?) and the best-known love song Oh! Quands je dors (Oh! When I sleep), had both cantabile and passion in equal measure, peaking in a rapturous climax.

The Schumann group was also varied and well-chosen, centred mostly on love (what else?); Ständchen (Serenade) with its spirited and rhythmic lines, the fresh awakening of love in Er ist’s (Spring lets its blue ribbon), and the flutter of excitement in Aufträge (Messages), complete with playful coquettish gestures. If there was one lied that summed up her mastery, that would be Stille Tränen (Silent Tears), where a finely worked crescendo swept its listeners off their collective feet. Andrea Grant (below) was the sensitive piano accompanist throughout, helping create the right mood for the music to reign.

Richard Strauss completed the evening’s fare with four lieder. Allerseelen (All Soul’s Day) was both touching and sentimental, a communion with the departed. The familiar Zueignung (Dedication) was taken at a comfortably moderate pace, allowing one to properly savour its paean of thanksgiving. A wide range of emotions were expressed in Ich wollt ein Sträusslein binden (I would have made a bouquet), complemented by the ecstatic joy in the final song Cäcilie, closing the recital on a real high.

With the serious stuff over, Osborne offered four generous encores, bringing the capacity-filled house down with The Girl in 14G (Kristin Chenoweth) and A Word On My Ear (Flanders & Swann), being equally conversant in both American and British musical theatre. For opera lovers, there was O mio babbino caro from Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi and specially for the predominantly Chinese audience, Mo-li-hua. Even if the pronunciation was approximate, it was nevertheless a good effort well deserving the plaudits she received. One hopes to hear more from this fine soprano.

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