The second concert of the Romanskonsert series, in the intimate setting of the Grünewaldsalen in Stockholm, was supposed to be "Shakespeare meets Goethe," featuring a programme of songs based on poems by the two masters. Unfortunately, Miah Persson cancelled due to illness. Her replacements brought about a change in the programme which, in the end, was less about Skakespeare and Goethe, and more about Scandinavian composers and beloved Lieder classics.

Jeremy Carpenter © Emelie Joenniemi
Jeremy Carpenter
© Emelie Joenniemi

The surviving original performer was Jeremy Carpenter, a British baritone residing in Sweden, who sang Lieder by Beethoven, Schubert, and Schumann, based on poems by Goethe; and, in the second part, Quilter's Five Shakespeare Songs and the famous Come away, Death. Carpenter's voice is very warm; it features a smooth passaggio to very good high notes and a reliable legato. He delivers with great elegance, shaping the phrases with confidence. Elegance may also be a hindrance in some occasions; I had the feeling that, in the most poignant songs, beautiful phrasing got a little in the way of emotional interpretation.

His best results were, in my opinion, in the three beautiful Beethoven songs, which were sung at the very beginning of the concert. Some of Schumann's Lieder stretched his voice a little too much in the high register, but overall his performance was remarkable.

One of the stand-ins was German singer Thomas Volle, who is a light tenor – a little too light for my taste. His repertoire ranges from early music to Mozart. He has a relatively powerful low register, and his high notes are very stylish and elegant. But his voice comes out a little weakly, and is somewhat monochrome. He put some effort into his interpretations, with better results in the fast, concitato songs. He performed six Lieder from Schubert's Die Schöne Müllerin, and the Five Songs, op. 40 by Schumann. Especially in Schumann, his voice seemed out of its depth; the feeling was that his instrument, although elegant and supported by a solid technique, is just not powerful enough.

The other substitute for Miah Persson was the 26 year old Swedish soprano Christina Nilsson, who sang several songs by Scandinavian composers ranging from the Romantic, to the Modernist, to the contemporary: Jean Sibelius, Adolf Fredrik Lindblad, Wilhelm Stenhammar, Ture Rangström, Lars-Erik Larsson. The repertoire suits her very well: a soprano lirico-drammatico voice, extremely confident and powerful high notes, supported by a very wise use of breath and a good technique. Her middle register, unfortunately, is not as powerful as the ringing, glass-shattering high notes would have you foresee. This may be an age problem; it is possible that her middle register will develop, and she may become a true drammatico. Singing in her native tongue, her delivery of the text was flawless, and her interpretation, although a bit restrained, was emotional and felt.

Magnus Svensson was at the piano, a versatile musician who has appeared on most concert stages in Sweden as well as in other European countries and the US. He proved to be more than a mere accompanist, driving the concert forward and sometimes leading the singers with his vigorous and engaged performance.

The performance itself suffered from mishaps due to the cancellation: there was no time to reprint programmes, the additional leaflet with the new list of songs contained misprints, Svensson had to run and get more sheets of music in the middle of a set, the page turner walked out on him at the wrong moment, and, to top it all off, the pianist featured two brightly colored mismatched socks. As a matter of fact, the pianist's socks are a perfect metaphor for the evening: mismatched, quirky, but stylish, nevertheless.