Musical Bites – Gemma Ní Bhriain (Mezzo Soprano), Sarah Shine (Soprano) & Dearbhla Máire Collins (Piano), at John Field Room, National Concert Hall, Dublin, 13th August 2014
Musical Bites is a series of lunchtime concerts at the National Concert Hall taking place during August. Featuring mezzo soprano Gemma Ní Bhriain, along with soprano Sarah Shine and Dearbhla Máire Collins on piano, the concert begins and concludes with duets, while the body of the programme was made up of a selection of solo songs, followed by a selection of arias spanning the Classical and Romantic eras.
Four duets from Schumann’s Liederalbum für die Jugend Op. 79 opens the concert. Mailied: Komm, lieber Mai was a beautifully uplifting choice to start the concert, leading into the more reserved Frühlingslied, with it’s beautifully trickling semiquaver passages, played with ample dexterity by Collins, followed by the uplifting Die Schwalben. Although the first three songs are similar vocally, featuring a straight-forward two-part writing, it’s the final song that is really a gem. Das Glück features a lovely call and response texture between Ní Bhriain and Shine. It is easy to write-off this set of duets as relatively simple, but it’s the balanced blending of the vocals that’s key here – and it’s apparent that the these two singers are well used to singing together, with both blend and balance spot on throughout.
Following the duets, Ní Bhriain takes to the stage for some solo works, Duparc’s L’invitation au Voyage, and Rachmaninov’s Spring Waters. Duparc is a composer of relative obscurity mostly due to the constraints on his work caused by his debilitating health throughout his life, and his predisposition to nervous conditions are evident in L’invitation au Voyage which is based on Baudelaire’s poem inviting a lover to a journey. Ní Bhriain’s emotionally descriptive performance, along with Collin’s intelligent accompaniment on the piano, hint at the underlying uncertainty and danger of the text. Rachmaninov’s Spring Waters is another impassioned and rapturous ode to spring, and yet another chance for Collin’s to make her presence known providing the “waters”, more appropriately described as torrents in this case. Ní Bhriain hands the stage over to Shine who begins her set of songs with another piece by Rachmaninov. The Soldier’s Wife recounts the sad tale a young woman who has lost her man to war. Shine’s performance is particularly effective in communicating the sense of desolation and loss inherent in the song, but her sadness is short-lived as she’s sets off into the rhythmic playful romp that is Delibes’ Les Filles de Cadix.
Ní Bhriain’s next selection of arias consist of Mozart’s Parto, Parto from La Clemenza di Tito, and Offenbach’s L’amour Vainquer from Les Contes d’Hoffmann. Bizarrely, this beautifully lyrical Offenbach aria is often cut from the opera, but Ní Bhriain showcases it wonderfully, displaying her vocal range’s depth and warmth, performing the aria with emotional intensity. Shine’s arias begin with Puccini’s Signore Ascolta from Turandot, followed by Gounod’s Je Veux Vivre from Romeo et Juliet, the highlight of which is the Gounod. Je Veux Vivre, commonly known as Juliet’s waltz, is gloriously resplendent in coloratura. Shine’s performance is not only technically impressive but also offers once again an opportunity for her to display her commanding communication skills, particularly in these roles where she can play to her youthful vibrancy and spirit.
The role of accompanist is often over-looked, but Collins is not just an impressively technical performer; one only has to listen to her interpretations of the Duparc, Rachmaninov, and Offenbach, to prove this. She is also a sensitive performer, and displays a thorough knowledge of the repertoire throughout.
Ending with a performance of Strauss’ Presentation of the Rose Duet from Der Rosenkavalier, the audience are treated to a simple, but highly effective, semi-staged version of the duet. Ní Bhriain, in the trouser-role of Count Octavian Rofrano (and wearing trousers after a quick costume change), descends the staircase of the John Field Room to present Shine, playing the role of Sophie von Faninal, with the silver rose. Ní Bhriain and Shine performed the duet with poise, subtlety and clarity. It isn’t a piece of music with a particularly arresting vocal finish, which one might expect at the end of a concert, but it displayed the singer’s awareness of the importance of the dramatic foundations of opera and it was the perfect end to a wonderful lunchtime of Musical Bites.
Gemma Ní Bhriain – Mezzo Soprano
Sarah Shine – Soprano
Dearbhla Máire Collins – Piano
Schumann – 4 Duets, Op. 79
Duparc – L’invitation au Voyage
Rachmaninov – Spring Waters
Rachmaninov – The Soldier’s Wife
Delibes – Les Filles de Cadix
Mozart – Parto Parto (La Clemenza di Tito)
Offenbach – L’amour Vainquer (Les Contes d’Hoffmann)
Puccini – Signore Ascolta (Turandot)
Gounod – Je Veux Vivre (Romeo et Juliet)
Strauss – Presentation of the Rose Duet (Der Rosenkavalier)