★★★★☆ Two legends of the art song shine in a rare Australian appearance.

Government House Ballroom, Perth
July 6, 2016

A benefit concert for the West Australian Academy of Performing Arts’ International Art Song Academy, now in its third year, this intimate recital showcased the artistry of two legends of the art song world, soprano Dame Felicity Lott and pianist Graham Johnson.

Whether as an introduction to art song or a delectable smorgasbord for the aficionado, the programme could hardly have been bettered. Schumann, Fauré, Satie, Hahn, Bridge, Britten and even Noel Coward were all represented. So much for Brexit. Songs included Schumann’s Widmung and Die Stille; Fauré’s En Sourdine and Clair de Lune; Satie’s Je te veux and Hahn’s A Chloris; Britten’s O Waly, Waly and Coward’s hilarious A Bar on the Piccola Marina.

Throughout, Dame Felicity’s focus on clarity of diction, expressive phrasing and timbral and dynamic shading was both absolute and utterly convincing, making up for any shortcomings in the still-beautiful voice which has served her so well over a stellar 40-plus-year career in opera and song.

It seems absurd to call Johnson a mere accompanist, especially given the musical quality of many of the settings here. No, he was an equal partner, and when not painting splendid vistas to support the vocal line his rich pianism ranged from rarefied cantabile to profound meditation, often both at once.

Dame Felicity and Johnson have been collaborating right from the very beginnings of their respective careers, and were founder members of the Songmaker’s Almanac, which has done so much over the years to promote art song as one of the greatest and most exquisite of all musical genres. That they exhibit an almost telepathic rapport is to be expected. But artistry such as theirs should never be taken for granted. We may never see their like again.

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