Louise Alder is no stranger to Wigmore Hall, having last given a solo recital there a mere nine months ago. An accomplished recitalist in any setting, Alder leveraged her command of the space to offer a thoughtful, entertaining selection of works that might not been as effective in a larger space. Well matched with Roger Vignoles' carefully shaded playing, the pair offered a dazzling range of works for their return to Wigmore's stage.

Roger Vignoles and Louise Alder © Wigmore Hall
Roger Vignoles and Louise Alder
© Wigmore Hall

Long overshadowed by her elder brother Felix, Fanny Mendelssohn is becoming increasingly appreciated for her mastery of the Lieder form. Alder and Vignoles offered a vibrant account of three songs written towards the end of Mendelssohn's career and among the few of her works to be actually published. Though these songs fall firmly into the early German Lieder tradition, Mendelssohn gives a delightful and often surprising harmonic twist, which was subtly highlighted by Vignoles. Most effective was a wonderfully sensitive account of the ravishing Warum sind denn die Rosen so blaß, Vignoles' muted arpeggios underlining Alder's whispered sighs. 

Berg's Seven Early Songs are an anomaly among the composer's oeuvre, closer to the expansive romanticism of Strauss or Mahler than to the exacting counterpoint of his Lyric Suite or Altenberg Lieder. Alder and Vignoles offered a version firmly grounded in the romantic tradition, Vignoles drawing a Debussy-esque palette of colours from the piano. I've never heard Alder's silvery soprano sound fuller, with some gorgeous portamenti in Schilflied and filling the room with radiant sound in the climaxes of Die Nachtigall. She also showed an impressive acuity with the text, digging into the harmonies of Nacht in a way that made me wonder if Lulu might perhaps be in her future.

Louise Alder © Wigmore Hall
Louise Alder
© Wigmore Hall

It was off to Paris for the rest of the recital, starting with three Bizet chansons designed to show of Alder's range as an actress. While Chant d'amour showed off Alder's satiny tone and Vignoles' masterful sense of rubato, Ouvre ton cœur offered Carmen in miniature, complete with flamenco-infused rhythms and seductive appoggiaturas. She was fully in her element as the flirtatious coquette in La Coccinelle, punctuated by Vignoles' droll commentary. 

Poulenc's Métamorphoses is perhaps the composer's most distilled song cycle, going from the rapid wordplay of Reine de mouettes to the virtuosity of Paganini through the heartbreaking lyricism of C'est ainsi que tu es within a mere five minutes. These songs sit slightly low for Alder, and both text and volume suffered beneath Vignoles' playing in the hall, though balance was much improved in the streamed broadcast. The climax of C'est ainsi que tu es, though, showed off Alder's ravishing high pianissimi and provided the necessary emotional weight. Satie's Trois Mélodies found Alder on far more comfortable form, delivering witty absurdities with obvious relish. Vignoles also clearly enjoyed himself in Satie's wickedly funny send-up of Gounod's waltzes in Le Chapelier.

Louise Alder sings <i>Les Mamelles de Tirésias</i> © Wigmore Hall
Louise Alder sings Les Mamelles de Tirésias
© Wigmore Hall

The best, though, was clearly saved for last, as Alder pouted her way onstage in a frilly apron and feather duster for a riotous account of Poulenc's "Non, monsieur mon mari" from Les Mamelles de Tirésias. Excerpted from Poulenc's adaptation of Apollinaire's surrealist drama, the title character's aria serves both as a feminist declaration and a vocal showpiece. Alder displayed a wicked sense of humour and some spectacular high notes, ably supported by Julien van Mellaerts as her husband and two helium-filled breasts that shimmied their way to Wigmore Hall's ceiling – surely a first for the illustrious venue. A seductively langorous rendition of Satie's Je te veux closed the programme, sending the contented audience into the weekend with a smile.

****1