Mary Woodward Review

Edinburgh International Festival, Malcolm Martineau and Friends – song recital

**** (4 stars)

This was a challenging situation – no programme to buy, and nothing to tell me what anything was: rather like a blind wine tasting in which I had to try and work out what was going on as it happened.

There was Malcolm Martineau at the piano, two singers [one lady, one gentleman], with a violinist and a cellist who added to the accompaniment of songs at the beginning and end of the programme.  Some of the songs were in English [though the words weren’t always clear] and many were in German, in which I am not proficient.  I could recognise some words – Schlaf [sleep], Traum [dream], and Zauber [magic] – and tried to guess what was going on.  I was watching the singers, their body language and expression, and listening to the accompaniments, to see what further clues I could find.  An added challenge was trying to identify the composers – without a huge amount of success, I must confess – the only piece I knew was Schubert’s piece now most familiar as his Ave Maria, but originally composed as part of the incidental music for Goethe’s play based on Scott’s the Lady of the Lake. 

There seemed to be some sort of Scottish theme – at least part of the time – and at one point I thought the singer mentioned Islay.  There was some joy, a lot of sorrow, some lullabies, some long ballads, and quite a bit of martial or excited music.  The singers were excellent, and as ever it was a joy to watch Malcolm’s facial expressions and involvement in whatever story was being told at the time.

Everything became a lot clearer when I got home and was able to go on line and read the programme, which had been made available before the concert began but after I’d had to leave home.  [yet again no smartphone = second-class citizen…]  I saw that Malcolm Martineau had been joined by soprano Elizabeth Watts and baritone Roderick Williams, with Sijie Chen on violin and Ursula Smith on cello.

I’d been right about the Scottish theme!  I’d been listening to a wide range of settings of texts by Sir Walter Scott, who was born 250 years ago – 15 August 1771 – in College Wynd off the Cowgate.  Scott’s novels and poems played a major part in the fervour for all things Scottish that swept Europe in the 19th century, and were the inspiration for many song settings and a few operas.  I wasn’t very good at spotting the composers – Haydn, Raff, Mendelssohn, Glinka, Meyerbeer, Parry, Gade, Schubert and Beethoven – or working out exactly what was being sung.  I realise how much I rely on the printed programme’s translations to help me, especially with German…

The singing was superb, but I do wish I’d had more of a clue what was being sung!  The audience were generous with their applause throughout – the longest by far being for Elizabeth Watt’s Schubert Ave Maria.

And then came the encore – and the whole event lit up like post-Tattoo fireworks, as all the performers joined in the world première of a work by today’s baritone Roderick Williams, which he described as ‘a student’s crammer notes about Sir Walter Scott’.  This lively piece told us Walter Scott – Sir Walter Scott: it’s not what he is, it is what he’s not: a catchy rhythm, witty lyrics, and a group of performers letting their hair down and simply having fun.  What a perfect way to end the recital!

Edinburgh International Festival, Malcolm Martineau and Friends – song recital, Old College Quad, Run Ended.

Mary Woodward

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