Lunchtime Live! at Portsmouth Cathedral: Olive Murray, voice

Programming is everything sometimes. Beginning with Scarlatti and Mozart, Olive Murray was agile and resonant but I wasn’t tuned in properly. Three Schubert songs included Nacht und Traume which was crepuscular, almost velvety in Christopher Foreman’s accompaniment, and although it’s not explicit in the translated text, Olive brought a suggestion of grief to it.

S’il est un charmant gazon by Liszt saw the programme gather momentum and his Oh! Quand je dors was not so sleepy but Cäcilie by Richard Stauss took off into an extra dimension, bringing the piano into a more eloquent role and giving Olive licence to extend into a more ambitious range,

If you but knew, sweet,
the anguish of waking thro’ nights long and lonely
and rocked by the storm when no one is near
to soothe and comfort the strife-weary spirit.

She is an opera singer, and at her very best in Romantic arias, the greater the vocal challenge the more in her element she is.

Three contrasting songs by Poulenc were a dramatic Voyage a Paris, a more reflective setting of a poem by Louis Aragon which, looking up the words, is every bit as nostalgic as Olive made it sound and Les Chemins de L’Amour which was more Edith Piaf perhaps. Two songs by Robert Schumann, who does well in lunchtime concerts, included Er Ist’s (Spring is here) about which I noted ‘playful’, taking a shortcut from it being from Lieder-Album fur die Jugend.

But if one suspected the finale might be big, and having seen it was Verdi, one wasn’t going to be disappointed. Ahfors‘ è lui che l’anima and Sempre libera from La Traviata unleashed further levels of passion and range in a scintillating ending.

For once I simply abdicate from the hapless role of the reviewer trying to find words adequate to the performance, which are often not good enough anyway, and just say, ‘Wow’. Maybe I’ll look up Maria Callas and Theresa Stratas another time but I’m not going to let them influence my memory of Olive Murray yet.

The applause, it has to be said, sounded like it came from many more hands than the desperately few who were rewarded for making the effort of attending. Portsmouth can only apologize to artists of such quality for not providing bigger audiences but that doesn’t mean they’re not very appreciative.

Performers are advised to ‘leave them wanting more’. I very much wanted the Queen of the Night as an encore. Maybe next time. I hope there is a next time. 

David Green

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