A Serenade to Music review – Come ho! Schubert rarities make for a stellar season send-off | Music

The closing concert of the current Wigmore season was a remarkable occasion on several counts. It rounded off the hall’s two-year survey of Schubert’s complete lieder with a first-half sequence of largely forgotten songs, duets, choruses and cantatas. After the interval came a celebration of music itself as a harmonising force that encompassed works by Purcell, Croft and Chabrier, before culminating in a performance of Vaughan Williams’s Serenade to Music. There were 17 singers, two pianists – Graham Johnson and Eugene Asti – and what may prove to be a career-making cast change, when Milly Forrest, a graduate from the Royal Academy of Music and a member of the Wigmore’s front-of-house staff, stepped in as a last-minute replacement for Ruby Hughes.

The Schubert rarities were fascinating. As a choral composer, he was clearly an accomplished mimic. Kantate für Irene Kiesewetter, written to celebrate the recovery of a well-known civil servant’s daughter, could be by Rossini. Handel, meanwhile lurks behind Mirjams Siegesgesang, a mini-oratorio for dramatic soprano, chorus and piano, that found Elizabeth Watts on blazing form. There were beautiful things among the lesser-known songs. Milan Siljanov’s performance of the haunting Der Kreuzzug had superb depth and authority. And Trost in Tränen, originally written for a single performer, became an engaging duet for a very forthright Gavan Ring and Marcus Farnsworth, who was at his most poetic.

The second half brought an inevitable change of mood with its contemplation of music as a platonic reflection of divine harmony. Forrest, with her silvery tone, sounded exquisite in Purcell’s If Music Be the Food of Love, and the wonderful Robin Tritschler was at his most ecstatic in Croft’s Hymn on Divine Musick. Watts powered her way through more exacting solos in Chabrier’s exuberant Ode à la Musique, before leaving her colleagues to perform Vaughan Williams’s Serenade, written in 1938 for 16 of the…

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