Cumnock Tryst: Karen Cargill and Simon Lepper, Trinity Church, Cumnock, Keith Bruce, five stars
THERE is no chance of any of us becoming blasé about the return of live music after a hiatus of 18 months as long as Karen Cargill is around.
The mezzo-soprano from Arbroath is accustomed to performing on the major opera stages of the world in epic roles by Bartok, Poulenc and Wagner. To open Sir James MacMillan’s 2021 Cumnock Tryst festival she gave an intimate recital of the songs of Robert and Clara Schumann and Amy Beach. Visibly moved by the experience of singing for a present audience again, the singer provided as perfect a start for his returned event as the composer could have wished – and then topped it off with an encore of his own setting of a poem by William Soutar.
There are few performers in possession of such a superb vocal instrument who sing in quite the relaxed style that comes naturally to Cargill. Recently appointed head of vocal studies at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, the eight songs of Robert Schumann’s A Woman’s Love and Life are, as she said, works that young students learn.
The settings of Chamisso’s cycle of verses are a narrative as the title suggests, and Cargill gave them full performative zest, with pianist Simon Lepper supremely attentive to her pacing and pauses. The best-known melody comes early in the sequence, but it was the contrast of the final two in Schumann’s sequence (he omitted the last of the poems) that brought us all to the edge of our seats.
Clara Schumann’s Opus 13 Sechs Lieder are contemporary with the cycle and for Cargill all fourteen are the work of the couple together, and a statement of their devotion to each other. The querulous ending of the final one of the six, Die stille Lotosblume, “Can you fathom the song?” does give the set a curious edge however.
If the mezzo has known this repertoire for her whole career, she admitted to being a newer devotee of the work of Amy Beach, whose Three Browning Songs completed her programme. They benefit from a big Wagner voice, and musical theatre fans would also enjoy them.
Cargill and Lepper have just released a new Linn Records album, Fleur de mon ame, exploring the French songs of Hahn, Debussy, Duparc and Chausson, not a note of which they chose to promote here, but perhaps the Beach songs may be the basis for a future recording.