Elizabeth Watts and Julius Drake devised a dreamy Wigmore Hall programme of song to chase away the cold and damp of a London Autumn evening. Watts’s lithe and rich soprano took flight immediately with a group of seven Lieder by Richard Strauss, opening with Einerlei, a rapturous poem in praise of the beloved’s contradictory sameness and delightful unpredictability, set the tone with lush intimacy which pervaded the whole recital. Other loving moods were explored in Meinem Kinde and Rote Rosen, vocal power and emotion building to the ecstatic Liebeshymnus. Watts’s range of expression was matched with exceptional clarity of tone and a bright sweetness, and her dramatic sense communicated every nuance, interior and extrovert, with erotic intensity in Cäcilie.
The Seven Early Songs of Alban Berg were even more successful, as Watts’s voice had warmed to become even more limpidly expressive and responsive to the pensive texts. This irresistible combination of Romanticism and the Second Viennese School gave a palpable twist to the recital as Watts and Drake enjoyed the dissonant and eerie musical word-painting in settings which depict moonlit mountain scenes and desolate reed-beds. Watts’s and Drake’s mastery took the evening into another sphere of spiritual exploration.
Virtuosity of a different order was required in the second half for a selection of chansons by Cécile Chaminade, delicate and elegant, lively and folk-inflected, touching too. Watts and Drake attended to the exquisite detail with breathtaking results.
Finally, Rachmaninov. Watt’s command of the Russian language and the dramatic power of these stirring songs was stunning, Drake’s contribution gargantuan, whether fragile or operatic-thundering.
Watts dedicated her first encore, The Rose and the Nightingale by Rimsky-Korsakov, to her revered teacher Ludmilla Andrew, who recently died, then Someone is sending me Flowers and she was promptly handed a bouquet.