Composer Ian Venables explained that some people preferred their poetry ‘neat’, while Housman, amoung others, considered that it was mutilated when set to music. However, Ian Venables described the coming together of poetry and music, the Art Song, as the ‘subtle art of word painting’.
Der Shin Hwang (mezzo-soprano) and Graham Lloyd (piano) showed, in performance, how different composers set their choice of words.
The piano suggested the prevailing mood in Brahm’s lively The Huntsman, which the singer delivered in theatrical style, followed, in contrast, with an atmospheric Lonesome Fields.
Ivor Gurney conveyed a calm beauty via the piano in All Night under the Moon, while Wilson Gibson’s words were enhanced in the vocal line.
Songs by Ian Venables invoked the poet’s messages through piano parts of imagery, combined with melodic vocal phrases where words were paramount. At Midnight, words by Edna St. Vincent Millay, was an emotional reminiscence of past loves, and the humorous poem by Robert Graves in Flying Crooked was treated with quick, happy excitement. In At Malvern the pianist was on the move constantly, the singer sounding as if in awesome wonder.
Russian songs of Rachmaninov summoned up high drama and power; Grieg’s Norwegian ones were emotional, ranging from being introversive to radiant ecstasy.
A group of Chinese songs were a delight as the musicians conjured up an aura of the singer’s homeland. Der Shin’s traditional dress combined with her natural attractiveness and beautiful singing gave a rare insight into these pieces
All the songs were sung in their original language, vital to the nuance of the poetry, while Graham Lloyd offered immense support and sensitivity from the keyboard, resulting in perfect corroboration.