Aylesbury Lunchtime Music – Jessica Wise (soprano) Guy Murgatroyd (piano)
The last of the summer season lunchtime concerts at St Mary‘s Church took place on Thursday 28th July and was given by soprano Jessica Wise and pianist Guy Murgatroyd. The concert demonstrated a real partnership between singer and accompanist and the works ranged from French impressionism to English lyric song via Russian romanticism.
Jessica and Guy started with Debussy settings of poems by Verlaine. The songs varied widely in tempo and mood and enabled both performers to show their remarkable skills from the outset. Jessica has a vocal range from, at one end, soft sweet sound - to a forte easily equal to the piano playing at full stretch.
Most helpfully, the performers spoke about the songs they were performing, which was useful as not everyone in the audience was fluent in both French and Russian! Five Rachmaninov songs were varied in mood and subject matter, and all performed with power, grace and charm.
Songs by Frank Bridge brought English showpieces to the concert. Demanding on both singer and pianist – they did not constrain the performers in expressing the gaiety and power of the music. The concert then moved back to French song, this time by Poulenc. Again, the considerable difficulties for both pianist and singer were never in evidence – the songs shone with sheer musicality.
The concert then moved to Mahler – setting words by Ruckert. Mahler, a wonderful songsmith, makes demands that a singer sing high notes softly and warmly, then swell on them making them rich and powerful, and then grow soft again, all without losing quality or running out of breath. Jessica met all those demands musically and apparently effortlessly.
A final piece was a setting by the pianist, Guy Murgatroyd, of Ecce Puer, a poem by James Joyce, written on the day that his second son was born and his father died. The evocative setting of A child is sleeping: An old man gone. O, father forsaken, Forgive your son! show that Guy has a future in composition as well as in bravura piano playing.