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Experimental feature

After years of keeping its treasures to itself, the Wigmore Hall is now actively sharing them with the world at large. Its Wigmore Hall Live series of CDs, offering recordings of past and present events, is growing apace and the sight of radio microphones over the stage is a lot more common than it used to be.

There is already a disc of the Finnish soprano Soile Isokoski in the series and her recital on Wednesday was being recorded by BBC Radio 3 for future broadcast. Although she does not have as close a relationship with the hall as some recitalists in the past, Isokoski is the kind of singer to thrive in the Wigmore’s fine acoustics and win a loyal audience.

Her warm, lyrical soprano, with a touch of tremulousness to give it vulnerability, is well known in Mozart and Strauss in the opera-house. An entire evening with it in the recital hall does not reveal much that we do not know already, but the basic sound keeps its appeal. Marita Viitasalo provided unexpectedly strong accompaniments at the piano – too much, one felt, at the start, but Isokoski’s soprano has grown from having to project over Strauss’s huge orchestra in Der Rosenkavalier and her voice filled the hall.

A short group of Mozart songs introduced a generalised, but sensitive style, and some Schubert went one step further: Mignon’s song of despair, “Nur wer die Sehnsucht kennt”, was sung with a force that hit home.

English and Finnish composers then widened the scope. Britten’s cycle On this Island is often sung by gleaming sopranos wanting to mirror the cut-glass brilliance of W.H. Auden’s poetry, but Isokoski brought to it more than its usual warmth of feeling. The poignant melancholy of Yrjö Kilpinen suited her perfectly and in the songs of Sibelius, where a stronger backbone is called for, she grew to several inches taller with no trouble at all. Others have ventured further and deeper in the discovery of songs such as these than Isokoski, but it is hard to find fault with what she has to offer.
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