There was no opera whatsoever on the programme. Most of the musicians were string players. So why did this performance – the last in Wigmore Hall’s latest Park Lane Group Young Artists season – feel like a high-octane night at the opera?
One reason: Louise Alder, a wonderful soprano and the concert’s main attraction. Recently graduated from the Royal College of Music, this young singer oozes potential as an opera diva, and not just because of her vocal quality – seductive, pliable and calorific though it is. Alder is an uninhibited actress, with a bewitching ability to get to the core of a text and embody it wholeheartedly. She knows how to hypnotise her audience. And this well-crafted programme, also showcasing the dynamic Ligeti Quartet, lent itself to her cause.
It consisted mostly of songs by English and Austrian early 20th-century composers – ostensibly diverse but artfully chosen to highlight chains of influence: Frank Bridge’s impact on his student, Benjamin Britten, for example, and Alban Berg’s on Bridge. What really glued it all together, however, was the intensity that Alder brought to each piece, almost equalled by that of her piano accompanist, John Paul Ekins.
Under her laser-sharp focus, the bleak and brief “Nocturne” from Britten’s On this Island, Op. 11 resonated far beyond its three-minute lifespan. Strauss’s “Der Stern” (from Op. 69) radiated tenderness: each word was lovingly caressed, each musical idea fresh and vital. Liszt’s “Tre Sonetti di Petrarca”, S. 270b, though operatic enough in its own right, swelled to even larger-than-life proportions in Alder’s hands, with lines such as “death and life alike repel me” declaimed in an anguished howl. And Bridge’s three charming songs – “Goldenhair”; “Sonnet ‘When most I wink’” and “Love Went a-Riding” – tripped off Alder’s tongue with a lyrical ease.
Earlier in the evening the Ligeti Quartet gave an incisive account of Bartók’s eerie String Quartet No. 4, a piece that revealed the players’ wide palette and translucent sound, albeit with a hint of restraint. They brought the same qualities to Berg’s Lyric Suite, while handling its mood-swings with a sure-footed grace. Alder joined them only for the final, haunting Largo desolato, but it was enough to underline the point: this soprano should go far.