Posted tagged ‘Faure’

Erica Eloff at the Wigmore Hall

November 17, 2008


The South African soprano Erica Eloff first appeared on my radar as Fiordiligi in Così fan tutte at Garsington Opera last summer:  tall, poised, magnetic;  a fabulous voice, big, smooth and even;  a commanding presence, and acting which covered the range from comedy to tragedy, always with intensity and controlled emotion.  (And one of her teachers – as with so many rising sopranos, especially at Garsington – was my old chum Lillian Watson.)

So when I had the chance to hear Erica in a Kirckman Concert Society recital at the Wigmore Hall on Sunday, I knew I was in for a treat.

With the young and very impressive James Baillieu – also from South Africa – as her accompanist, she gave us a varied programme in a wide variety of languages, all sung with perfect diction and idiomatic pronunciation.

She began with some Schubert rarities in Italian, Vier Canzonen (D688), and continued in French with Fauré’s Poème d’un jour (three songs), Après un rêve and Fleur jetée, beautifully delivered and very touching.

So far she seemed accomplished if somewhat restrained, perhaps a little nervous (and not flattered by the awful overhead lighting;  Wigmore, can’t you manage something better than this?).  But with her next cycle of songs she was transformed:  Alleenstryd (Outcast:  the Lone Struggle) is a set of six enormously powerful songs in Afrikaans with a strong political message, composed  by Hendrik Hofmeyr (born 1957).  The music was muscular, occasionally thorny, and full of character (James Baillieu told us that the composer was one of his teachers, so the work had a personal significance for him too).  Singing in her own language, Erica Eloff finally came totally alive, bewitching us with a range of moods from despair and cynicism to flirtatiousness, nostalgia, anger and pride.  A tremendous achievement.  CD, please!

After the interval, another country, another language – Edvard Grieg’s six songs in German, Op. 48.  Grieg is such a glorious composer (and hardly given sufficient coverage in 2007, the centenary of his death);  these songs are among his loveliest and best known, and show Grieg’s unerring talent for setting a scene with the simplest of means, not to mention his gift for a great tune.  Again Erica Eloff held us captivated with her flawless singing, her wit and charm, and her alertness to every change of mood.

Finally, Rachmaninov’s Six Songs, Op. 38, gave us yet another language (Russian) and an even bigger range of moods and colours.  An ambitious choice, but one to which she rose impressively, her voice seamlessly beautiful and powerful from top to bottom of a big range.  At the end of the final song, ‘A-oo’, she held her expression of despair, puzzlement and sadness (‘But where are you? … I sing, I search, “A-oo”, I cry’) even throughout the long instrumental postlude.

A lovely little Afrikaans encore sent us away in high spirits, aware that we were witnessing the start of a great career.  Certainly a soprano to watch.  I can’t wait for her next stage appearance, nor her first CD, nor (dare we hope) a place as Miss South Africa at Cardiff Singer of the World?  She deserves it.

Thanks to Matthew Brailsford and the Kirckman Society, and my brother Tony, for the train of circumstances that led me to be part of this event!  And to Erica for her friendly post-concert greetings and glass of bubbly.  And to Diana for the photograph.

Oliver Sacks: Musicophilia

February 8, 2008

At last – with grateful thanks to Santa Claus – here is the book I have been waiting for! –  an intelligent, informed, detailed but also imaginative and perceptive book about music and the brain, from the author of The Man Who Mistook his Wife for a Hat, An Anthropologist on Mars, Uncle Tungsten and many another thought-provoking work.  Previous attempts to tackle the subject for the general reader have always seemed to me to be calamitously uninformed musically, and/or insufficiently technical or detailed scientifically  (and the more specialist scientific reports had not come my way).  Pace Dr Sacks, Anthony Storr‘s Music and the Mind (1992) was a great disappointment to me (having eagerly looked forward to it) – too much vague romantic waffling and not enough hard knowledge of what is actually going on in music.

Oliver Sacks approaches the subject from a deep professional knowledge and experience of neurology, plus a keen amateur interest in music and, as always, a probing imagination, an enquiring mind, and an openness to the ‘unscientific’ realms of emotions, personal life histories, irrational thought processes and associations, fantasies and dreams. 

The criticism sometimes directed at his other books – that he finds poetic and philosophical insights in the case histories of what are actually seriously dysfunctional, unhappy and sick patients – is less applicable here, since in most cases music is not only a boon and a comfort to his patients/case histories, but may be the only thing that keeps them functioning at all.

He writes fascinating chapters on topics including:

• Sudden musicophilia (following a stroke or injury)
• Catchy tunes and ‘earworms’
• Musical hallucinations

• Faulty music – amusia, dyhsarmonia
• Absolute pitch
• Musical savants
• Synaesthesia

• Music and amnesia (the case of Clive Wearing, who suffered near total memory loss – short and long term – following an infection, but still has his music)
• Aphasia and music therapy
• Tourette’s syndrome and music
• Musician’s dystonia – the sudden or progressive inability to play one’s instrument

• Musical dreams
• Music and emotion
• Music and depression
• The hypermusical abilities of people with Williams Syndrome
• Dementia and music therapy

Dr Sacks occasionally (more…)