Ailish Tynan, Emma Johnson & Finghin Collins at National Concert Hall on 27th November 2016
This afternoon’s recital, the last in the current season, offers the enticing draw of pianist Finghin Collins in combination with clarinettist Emma Johnson and soprano Ailish Tynan. Presenting Schubert’s ‘The Shepherd on the Rock’ (no doubt the spur to this line-up) offers the challenge of building a programme around it. Here, the artists take the democratic option, giving equal honours to both clarinettist and singer.
The opening pieces are the least-familiar: three of Louis Spohr’s excellent Six German Songs for soprano, clarinet and piano. Collins and Johnson establish an effective partnership from the very opening bars, with Johnson’s showmanship and clear tone offering a solid foil to Collins’ smooth pianism. The main auditorium is never an easy space for voices, and Tynan’s singing initially seems slightly compressed or darkened, as if over-compensating, but this tightness soon evaporates as these first songs develop. Her feeling for atmosphere, and sensitive projection of the text, is never in doubt. The tender dialogue between singer and clarinettist in the second song, ‘Das heimliche Lied’ [‘The secret song’], draws out a concentrated brilliance in the quieter sections, while the witty animation of ‘Wach auf’ [‘Wake up!’] brings out the almost improvisational feel of Johnson’s interweaving clarinet line.
The emotional heart of this afternoon’s programme emerges as Collins and Tynan perform the twelve songs of Schumann’s much-loved Liederkreis [‘Song-cycle’], Op. 39. Schumann’s songs, especially these, are more like personal confessions than poetic exercises, and Tynan sings them with a disarming freshness. The vivid immediacy that she brings to the first two songs is followed by the intensity of ‘Waldesgesprach’ [Forest conversation], full of drama, atmosphere and passion. The songs ‘Mondnacht’ [Moonlit night] and ‘Auf einer Burg’ [In a fortress], fabulous in themselves, are brought to mysterious and powerful life with both Tynan’s superb singing and Collins’ fine playing. No stranger to Schumann, Collins’ experience shows in his elegant, understated playing here, and they create a strong partnership that will hopefully continue into the future.
More chamber music by Schumann follows as Johnson returns to play the Drei Fantasiestücke [Three Fantasy-Pieces] for clarinet and piano. Her sweet and even tone makes much of Schumann’s richly imaginative melodies, letting the three short pieces weave their unassuming magic. To close, all three artists re-unite to perform the promised ‘Shepherd on the Rock’. Johnson’s opening entry, a gentle crescendo out of silence, is exquisite, and Tynan matches her tone beautifully as they rise to their duet, heartfelt and brilliantly witty by turns, in this most affectionate yet demanding piece. There is much to enjoy in their respective artistry, and the audience rise at the end to applaud—something rarely seen in a chamber recital.
Louis Spohr: Three songs (‘Sei still mein Herz’; ‘Das heimliche Lied’; ‘Wach auf’) from Six German Songs, Op. 103 for soprano, clarinet and piano
Robert Schumann: Liederkreis, Op. 39; Drei Fantasiestücke, Op. 73
Franz Schubert: Der Hirt auf dem Felsen, D. 965