tue 25/06/2024

Gweneth Ann Rand, Simon Lepper, Wigmore Hall review - a richly hued collection of songs | reviews, news & interviews

Gweneth Ann Rand, Simon Lepper, Wigmore Hall review - a richly hued collection of songs

Gweneth Ann Rand, Simon Lepper, Wigmore Hall review - a richly hued collection of songs

An exploration of black voices through music

Wigmore Hall screenshot

In the final concert marking the Wigmore Hall’s 120-year anniversary, soprano Gweneth Ann Rand and pianist Simon Lepper gave a programme of songs curated by Rand, titled "An Imperfect Tapestry".

Described by Rand as "a personal reflection of black voices and muses, stretching back in time to the Black Venus, who inspired the poetry of Baudelaire", the programme features traditional works made famous by singers such as Nina Simone and Billie Holliday, as well as newer songs by contemporary composers Errolyn Wallen, Adolphus Hailstork and Harry Server. Opening with the traditional spiritual “Motherless Child”, Rand sang a capella, immediately fostering an honest, open relationship with her audience. 

Performing three of Debussy’s Cinq poèmes de Baudelaire, Rand sang with a creamy, opulent voice, Lepper’s lush piano playing beautifully colouring the songs. "Recueillement" (Mediation) was rich and romantic, while "La mort de amants" (The death of lovers) was more contemplative, Rand singing with a deep passion but also a delicate tenderness. A break between French impressionism, Rand’s rendition of Abel Meeropol’s "Strange Fruit" was especially moving, and showed her as a highly skilled communicator. 

Ravel’s Chansons madécasses (Songs of Madagascar), a set of three exotic art songs set to text by Évariste-Désiré de Parny, were exquisitely performed, starting with a light feel evocative of the warm summer breeze of the eponymous island. The second song, "Aoua!", began with a startling punch, and the third, "Il est doux" (It is sweet) was indeed that, the music’s delicate softness rounded off with a humorous flourish. 

Another traditional song, "Black is the colour of my true love’s hair", was sumptuous and sensual. The song listing did not specify the arrangement, but the piano part was gorgeous, with rich, ringing chords. Errolyn Wallen’s 2006 Christmas carol "Peace on Earth" had a soft, twinkling piano part. Rand sang the vocal line - a simple melody but rendered more complex by its harmonic relationship to what’s going on on the keyboard - with expert tuning and diction. The final song in the programme, "Decisions", from contemporary American composer Adolphus Hailstork’s 1992 work Songs of love and justice, was particularly gripping. A setting of words spoken by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Rand’s final lines were powerful and punchy, as she ended the programme with the probing question “What are you doing?”.

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