Tara Erraught/James Baillieu review – quietly intense and simply exquisite

Irish mezzo Tara Erraught’s latest Wigmore recital with her pianist James Baillieu took place between Christmas and New Year, though her beautifully constructed programme mercifully avoided seasonal frivolity. Mahler’s Rückert Lieder, opening the second half, were balanced in the first by a very different sequence of Rückert settings, sardonic and satirical, by Carl Loewe. These were flanked by a group of Loewe’s Goethe songs and his rarely performed cycle Frauenliebe of 1836, which uses substantially the same text, by Adelbert von Chamisso, as Schumann’s more familiar Frauenliebe und -leben. A group of Irish songs, some traditional, some by Hamilton Harty, sung in Gaelic and English, rounded the evening off.

Erraught has a bright mezzo with an appealing gleam in her upper registers, where her dynamic control is also exceptional, allowing her to float the final phrases of Mahler’s Ich Bin Der Welt Abhanden Gekommen with easy serenity. She’s also a fine vocal actor, nicely alert to mood and psychology, capable of bringing gossipy relish to Loewe’s wicked depiction of a parson’s daughters in Die Pfarrjüngferchen, and investing Goethe’s Gretchen, in Loewe’s remarkable Szene aus Faust, with considerable tragic force and weight.

Loewe’s Frauenliebe suited her down to the ground, Mahler’s Rückert Lieder fractionally less so. Her performance of the latter, though beautifully voiced, suggested a fine interpretation in the making rather than fully perfected, and the despair and exaltation of Um Mitternacht ideally need to be more extreme in expression. But Frauenliebe was marvellous in its quiet intensity, the words really hitting home, the emotional trajectory from desire to grief immaculately charted. And the Irish songs, which included the impassioned Róisin Dubh and Harty’s brooding The Sea Wrack, were most attractively done.

Her partnership with Baillieu is clearly a fine one, too. He’s an exceptional accompanist, knowing both when to hold back and let the vocal line do the work, and when to assert himself and propel the music forward. Loewe’s sometimes deceptively simple figurations seemed fraught with meaning throughout, and his playing in Mahler’s Ich Atmet’ Einen Linden Duft was simply exquisite.

Tim AshleyThe Guardian