It was a full house on Friday night at the opening of the Oxford Lieder Festival, the UK’s largest art song festival. And to mark a nation gone bonkers with Brexit, the organisers chose an apt theme: The Grand Tour, A European Journey in Song. Talk about sticking a chorus of fingers up at the notion of closed borders.
Oxford Lieder Festival is seventeen years strong this year. It will present a staggering 100 events over two weeks, including song, piano, chamber music, recital, choral, readings and masterclasses. The celebration of European song takes us on a journey from Finland, to Poland, Spain, Ireland and Russia, with German Lied taking centre stage. Claude Debussy is one of the stars of the festive menu as well Charles Gounod and Hubert Parry. And of course, there will be plenty of Schumann, Schubert and Brahms.
The Oxford Lieder festival takes place in venues across Oxford including New College Chapel, Merton College, Christopher Wren’s Sheldonian Theatre, the Holywell Music Room (Europe’s oldest concert hall), the Ashmolean Museum, the Weston Library and the Town Hall.
A Serenade to Music
The festival kicked off with an enchanting evening of song in the company of Sophie Bevan, Kitty Whately, James Gilchrist and Marcus Farnsworth on vocals. Sholto Kynoch, the festival founder and its artistic director, was on piano, and Jonathan Stone on violin. They were accompanied by the Schola Cantorum of Oxford, conducted by Steven Grahl.
Sophie Bevan sang with poise, power and control. I was delighted to see Kitty Whately sans her buttoned-up eyes from Coraline at the Barbican (a nightmare opera in more ways than one). Master storyteller James Gilchrist was electrifying in his ghoulish rendition of Carl Loewe’s composition of Goethe’s The Erlking, and demonstrated his dramatic and vocal agility again in Debussy’s Carol for Homeless Children. And then there was Farnsworth who, I’ll just come out and say it, is a sexy, intense performer. His version of The Erlking was dark, sombre and poignant.
The highlight of the evening was the Vaughan Williams’s stirring and sumptuous Serenade to Music sung by all and which left us breathless and a tad tearful.
There are numerous free events and thousands of tickets available from £2 to £12. Concessionary rates are offered to bookings over multiple events, and for the under 35s, tickets are available at £5.
The Oxford Lieder Festival is on until 27 October 2018. You can book tickets here.
My festival favourites
Strauss, Debussy and Schumann – 15 October at 7.30pm. Soprano Louise Alder, winner of the Audience Prize at BBC Cardiff Singer of the World, is joined by horn player Stef van Herten.
The Diary of One Who Disappeared – 16 October at 7.30pm. Singers from the Royal Academy of Music are supporting British tenor Tony Spence and Hungarian mezzo-soprano Dorottya Láng.
Tallinn to St Petersburg – 17 October at 7.30pm. The Estonian mezzo-soprano, Kai Rüütel shot to fame as a Royal Opera House Jette Parker Artist. Roger Vignoles will be accompanying her as she introduces us to songs from her homeland.
Songs of Farewell 19 October at 7.30pm. Join tenor James Gilchrist, pianist Anna Tilbrook and the Choir of New College, Oxford, for an evening of choral music and song in two stunning locations. After the interval, the audiences swap locations. The evening concludes with a celebratory glass of wine.
An English Songbook 22 October at 7.30pm. Mezzo-soprano Dame Sarah Connolly is joined by her duo partner, the American pianist Eugene Asti, and together they will be performing English and Irish song with works by Vaughan Williams, Holst, Gurney and Somervell.
Le Chat Noir 24 October at 9.45pm. Savour some Satie, who performed in the original Le Chat Noir cabaret club, some Poulenc and un peu de Piaf in the Mad Hatter bar.
Die Schöne Magelone 25 October at 7.30pm. Dutch baritone Thomas Oliemans is joined by world renown pianist Malcolm Martineau when they will perform Brahms’s only song cycle, a tale of love and chivalry.
A European Song Cycle 27 October at 7.30pm. The festival closes in the company of mezzo-soprano Tara Erraught and baritone Ashley Riche. No surprises who is on piano – Sholto Kynoch. They will be performing Schumann’s Myrthen the great song cycle that he gave to his wife Clara as a wedding gift in 1840.
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