Brenda Rae burst onto the British scene in English National Opera’s Lulu in 2016 and her roles include Lucia and Richard Strauss’s Zerbinetta. In her debut Wigmore Hall recital Rae opened somewhat hesitantly with a selection of Strauss Lieder. Die Nacht stepped a little too softly from the trees and Muttertändelei and Schlagende Herzen failed to quite convince. Five songs of Fanny Mendelssohn followed, Schubertian pastiche, showcasing Rae’s excellent German, but stylistically did little to allow her voice the space and mobility to shine. A group of Liszt songs gave the first sign of the riches that would fully blossom later, a sensuous and operatic intensity as Rae relaxed and communicated naturally; Oh! quand je dors (Victor Hugo) was vocally and emotionally stunning and Jonathan Ware’s accompaniment immaculate.
Debussy’s early songs were written for his lover Marie-Blanche Vasnier who possessed an exquisite instrument. Rae’s mobile and lyric coloratura was shown to its best advantage here especially in the exotic vocalise of Rondel chinois and the sultry and witty Coquetterie posthume. The following Schubert selections comprised settings from the beginning and end of his career, interspersed with the timeless Du bist die Ruh. Lied der Delphine was written for a theatrical presentation, an Eastern-style Romeo and Juliet, and emphasised Rae’s dramatic gifts to bring the evening to a magnificent climax. Strauss’s Amor, with its ringing trills and arpeggios, brought the house down as a playful and sexy encore.