The customary style of a Rosenblatt Recital is to have one or two singers accompanied by a single pianist, a trend occasionally broken for when singers like Juan Diego Flórez or Leo Nucci feature who may have a chamber orchestra behind them. For mezzo-soprano Tara Erraught’s recital, we had something a little different: joining her on the Wigmore Hall platform with pianist James Baillieu was clarinettist Ulrich Pluta. The programme was divided along fairly typical lines; the second half featured well-known arias, while the first was devoted to a collection of songs, many of which are not regularly encountered.

Tara Erraught © Jonathan Rose
Tara Erraught
© Jonathan Rose

Erraught appeared as a singer now at the height of her powers, blending an innate sense of musicality with a youthful voice and well honed technique. She started with three songs from Louis Spohr’s Deutscher Lieder. There’s a rather fun letter written by Wagner in 1845 to Spohr which begins “Most revered master” and goes on to wax in the most obsequious tones about the importance of Spohr to German opera. Ironically of course, the strength of Wagner’s music ended up all but obliterating the names of his contemporaries; a shame, because Spohr, as revealed in Erraught’s selection of his works, has a vitality of tone and his operas, Faust in particular, are worth hearing.

The selection didn’t offer Erraught much of a chance to really show off the bottom of her voice, but certain key features were obvious from the start. In Zwiegesang, she displayed a fine knack for shading each word with colour and meaning. Her diction and pronunciation, of both German and later Italian, were impeccable. Wach auf! the last of the Spohr songs was sung in convincingly seductive and playful tones. Erraught has expressive features, deployed to great dramatic effect, at one moment creased and wracked with distress, the next a study in delight – a real canvas of emotion that while subsidiary to the voice, offers an additional element in performance that makes her a captivating singer.

Ulrich Pluta, James Bailleu and Tara Erraught © Jonathan Rose
Ulrich Pluta, James Bailleu and Tara Erraught
© Jonathan Rose

Erraught also pulled out a couple of songs by Lachner, a solid but uninspiring composer. Auf Flugeln des Gesanges is probably unknown to many readers; featuring extensive writing for clarinet at the start and between bouts of singing, the vocal writing was somehow made interesting by Erraught’s technique, filing the voice down and creating an air of intimacy in contrast to the more bold performance of the Spohr. Erraught’s ability to deal with the rapid leaps and bounds of Rossini was hinted at by the final song, the better known Der Hirt auf dem Felsen where we had, at times, top notes of almost an almost liturgical purity – pale and unyielding before blooming in strength.

The second half gave us an opportunity to see Erraught in a more familiar context and she made a warm hostess, offering an affable commentary in between arias. Keen phrasing and a bite to the trills in “Soffre il mio cor con pace” from Mitridate, re di Ponto and “Ah se è ver” from Il barbiere di Siviglia was outshone by a superbly characterful performance of “Voi che sapete” from Le nozze di Figaro, a masterclass in nuance, comedy and expression. A bitterly coloured Giovanna d’Arco, Rossini’s cantata of 1834, rounded off the official programme. Erraught encored with French, Copland and most impressively, Mozart where she brought Pluta back to the platform for a fiery “Parto, parto” from La clemenza di Tito, high notes rolled out with almost irritating ease. Pluta’s playing here, as in the first half, was mellow and rich, while Baillieu was a solicitous accompanist, never threatening to dominate or eclipse Erraught, but leaving an impression with his evocative opening to the Giovanna d’Arco.  

****1