January 29, 2014 5:38 pm

Nash Ensemble, Wigmore Hall, London – review

An evening of ‘American Song’ highlighted composers who tasted popular success

“You can’t dance like this in Schubert,” exclaimed Roderick Williams, as he joined the small chorus line of three singers for an encore. As far as recital evenings at Wigmore Hall go, this was an occasion for letting one’s hair down, even if the platform is on the small side for a Broadway song-and-dance routine.

Rather than sticking to classical masters, the Nash Ensemble’s American Series is making a point of including composers who tasted popular success. Richard Rodgers, Bernard Herrmann and Franz Waxman are all on the bill in a season that ranges widely across 20th-century American music.


IN Music

This “American Song” evening was a tale of two halves. The programme began with Williams singing folk songs arranged by Copland and a few songs by Ives, including his riotous “The Circus Band”, all performed with tremendous gusto, including by Roger Vignoles at the piano. For contrast, Barber’s Dover Beach offered reflective calm, bathed in the warmth of Williams’ resonant baritone and the rich cushion of sound provided by the four Nash Ensemble string players.

From there on, though, it was Broadway almost all the way. It was hard not to enjoy favourite numbers from Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess when Latonia Moore and Williams were the singers. But does this music really translate well to a Lieder-like piano accompaniment in this hall? And was not Moore’s searing soprano – a thrilling sound – rather too loud?

After the interval Kim Criswell took over for a group of sharp-witted Kurt Weill numbers. There is no singer around who could trump her sassy delivery (when will we get Criswell in another London show?) but again the music did not feel at home, and Criswell’s voice sounded on the shallow side in this company. The company of three, with Vignoles still working hard to match the Broadway sound, ended with a selection of Bernstein numbers, Latonia Moore outstanding in “Somewhere” from West Side Story. But none of this worked as well as Gershwin’s simple Lullaby for string quartet had earlier – touching music, and one piece that might have been made for an evening at the Wigmore.


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