Concert Review: Of Night and Dreams – Rebecca Reavley (soprano) and Pamela Krakauer (piano)

from left to right: Peter Krakauer, Pamela Krakauer, Rebecca Reavley

Mondnacht, Robert Schumann
Nacht, Alban Berg
Schilflied, Alban Berg
Der Nußbaum, Robert Schumann
Ständchen, Richard Strauss
Die Nachtigall, Alban Berg
Traumgekrönt, Alban Berg
Die Nacht, Richard Strauss
Im Zimmer, Alban Berg
All mein Gedanken, Richard Strauss
Liebesode, Alban Berg
Sommertage, Alban Berg
Abendempfindung, W.A. Mozart

Rebecca Reavley (soprano)
Pamela Krakauer (piano)
Peter Krakauer

Review by Victor Gan

The sense of unexpected delight when the offer of a Berg recital crossed my desk is perhaps not a universal one. But the second Viennese school was for me a crucial pivot in my making sense of harmonic diversity, having sung in Schoenberg’s Gurrelieder at the Proms, listened to gramophone classics such as Juilliard Quartet’s traversals, Szigeti’s Berg Violin Concerto, Rosbaud’s orchestral pieces by Berg and Webern, and watched Straub and Huillet’s film version of Schoenberg’s Moses und Aron. However, I never found a recording of the Sieben frühe Lieder that fully satisfied. That I had such an opportunity for live performance in Singapore during Covidtide, rather than at the Wigmore or the 92 St Y or the Salzburger Festspiele was a wonderful surprise. Further, the programming was refreshing: interspersing the seven disparate pieces with familiar favourites from the lieder repertoire by Schumann and Strauss, stressing the late romantic continuities. And ending on Mozart—how charmingly novel! All this in the context of a lecture-recital by a pianist trained in the Mozarteum, with commentary by a professor of musicology from the same institution, and a young soprano just graduated from the Royal Northern College of Music, part of the increasing wave of musical talent returning to our shores. 

Despite the stringent entry procedures, delaying even the family of the distinguished Austrian diplomatic guests present, soprano Rebecca Reavley put the audience at ease after setting the scene with Schumann’s Mondnacht, introducing the theme of the recital—”Of Night and Dreams”—to an audience mainly composed of friends and family, the Recital Studio’s capacity limited to a mere fifty. Her light lyric soprano drew the audience in; I found myself leaning forward to catch the traces of expression afforded by the relative intimacy of Esplanade’s Recital Studio. Pamela Krakauer tamed the concert Steinway, never overwhelming the singing, but being an equal partner in Berg’s complex harmonic excursions. To have two such sympathetic chambert artists find each other must count as one of the silver linings of this pandemic period. 

Berg’s songs were also orchestrated, and in that form, take on a more dramatic character with the soprano having to carry over the symphonic orchestra. I had been listening to Jessye Norman’s recording; a greater difference in timbre would be hard to imagine. What Norman offered in power and vocal lusciousness, Reavely communicated using freshness and suggestion, especially in the first segments. Her mezza di voce in Die Nachtigall (The Nightingale) captured the magical sense of the fading of birdsong. By the latter half, Reaveley seemed to come into her own in the climaxes of Liebesode and Sommertage, displaying a ravishing sweep conveying “ecstatic dreams” and “deep, deep joy.” That late Romantic-modernist transition within early Berg was fractally mirrored in the use of Strauss and Schumann to set off Berg’s tonally freer ecstasies, and Reaveley’s ringing top notes propelled that spinal frisson of resolution so fundamental to this tradition. Krakauer’s pianistic palette also expanded to suggest the gamut of symphonic timbres, from arpeggiated fluvial strings, to flute-like floral brilliance. 

Peter Krakauer provided what the programme notes call “moderation” between sections His role fluctuated between an academic perspective on the literary texts to a dramaturgical audience guide, elucidating the shift from bourgeouis realism to symbolic expressionism in the poetic texts, and providing cultural contexts for fin de siècle Teutonic culture. His extended commentaries gave the concert a different feel than the usual liederabend, with one three minute song garnering a four minute speech. The audience seemed receptive to such an approach; I certainly appreciated the chance to hear from a cultural and musical historian. I enjoyed the focus on the poets and texts in the lieder sung. Asking for musical explication as well might be greedy, even if having a musicologist on stage is a rare opportunity.

The last of the Berg songs ended with “The heart falls silent in the meadow’s song, words now cease when image after image comes to you and fills you utterly,” the vocal line strongly resolving to C major, while the piano coda fades away to C minor, reflecting the chiaroscuro in the cycle. After a break, the final Mozart lied, “Evening Thoughts” functioned almost like an encore, or at least a postscript, reminding us of the Salzburgian antecedents of two of those on stage, and providing some calming respite as we left for the night, having been promised a recital of English and French song in late June. 

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