Claudia Huckle and Simon Lepper
February 13 2020
Review: William Ruff
A powerful celebration of the contralto voice
Thursday’s Lakeside concert was advertised as celebrating the beauty of the contralto voice. But it was the power of Claudia Huckle’s voice that first struck you, so powerful indeed that ears needed to adjust to hear its subtlety. She ended her recital with pianist Simon Lepper with Elgar’s Sea Pictures and it was no surprise to read in the programme that she had sung this with the Hallé. Claudia could easily take on the might of a 100-piece orchestra…and emerge victorious.
Elgar’s settings of five sea-themed poems (not all out of the poetic top drawer) are vivid, dramatic and atmospheric, combining heartfelt intimacy with Victorian grandeur. Claudia sang the best-known song ‘Where Corals Lie’ with a haunting, yearning quality whilst reserving maximum vocal power and her remarkable vocal range for the final song ‘The Swimmer’ with tongue-twisting words which unleash the ferocious energy of strong winds which ‘tread the swift waves under the flying rollers with frothy feet’ (you see what I mean about the words…). Claudia’s final climactic note was nothing if not a force of nature in itself.
It may seem a little ungrateful to suggest that there was just a tad too much power at times in this recital. There were three musical instruments being played at Lakeside: not only voice and piano but also a recital hall which allows even the smallest nuance to be heard. Simon Lepper’s accompaniments were exemplary in their tonal and dynamic subtlety and the ways in which he sensitively supported the voice throughout the programme. But in that space less might have meant more, as far as vocal dynamics were concerned.
As well as three radiantly tender songs by Richard Strauss and three impressionistically coloured sea songs by Swedish composer Gösta Nystroem, Claudia Huckle and Simon Lepper performed Wagner’s Wesendonck Lieder, the duo inhabiting the world of the poems with rich, vibrant colouring of the words. This was especially true in their sensitive (rather than sentimental) performance of the opening song ‘Der Engel’ in which an angel comes down to earth to relieve the suffering of the human soul by transporting it to heaven.
There was one short encore, Benjamin Britten’s folk song arrangement ‘O Waly Waly’, which gave us in a nutshell the qualities of the Huckle/Lepper partnership: a deep richness of sound, insight into meaning and sensitivity to tonal colour. But even here some would have felt their fingers itching for a volume control.
Claudia Huckle, contralto
Simon Lepper, piano