Page-turning is a terrifying experience. The slightest slip-up will put your status as a musician in jeopardy, people will lose complete respect for you as an intellectual member of the human race and nobody will ever love you because you’re dense enough to turn a page of music two bars too early. Or at least that’s what it feels like. I endured this rare form of torture for a good two hours last week, only being able to take solace in the fact that I was listening to world-class musicians perform at their best. Lancashire born Amanda Roocroft gave a mesmerising performance of several songs for Soprano and accompanying piano, played by Joseph Middleton.
Each song was vaguely linked through a somewhat cliché story that Middleton had written, called The End Of The Affair: a young woman begins a Saturday morning asking the unanswerable question – o tell me the truth about love? Fittingly, the night kicked off with ‘O Tell Me The Truth About Love’ by Britten, originally an Auden poem. Already, Roocroft’s charm was obvious through her animated behaviour; breaking out of song now and then to make a quick joke, or the odd roguish look at a member of the audience. This was a perfect song to start on and truly demonstrated Roocroft’s range, especially during the quick octave and dynamic changes throughout the last chorus.
Rachmaninoff’s ‘Lilac’ really stood out as an oddly haunting piece that also had almost no relevance to the storyline, thus rendering it worthy of ‘filler’. Meaning to represent the protagonist meeting a man and falling in love, it is a harmonically interesting piece that stands well on its own. However, Middleton played far too quickly, causing the initial sentiment of the song to lose all significance and Roocroft’s voice to sound strained at particularly high sections. At the right Andante tempo, this would have been a brilliant encore, but it simply did not fit with the tone and context of the storyline.
As the story progressed, the young woman’s heart was inevitably broken after spotting her new love with someone else. A predictable turn in the plot, of course, but Kurt Weill’s wonderfully maudlin ‘Je Ne T’aime Pas’ illustrated the woman’s sheer despair impeccably. One could almost hear tears being choked back behind Roocroft’s belligerent screaming of “Pull your hand back, I don’t love you!” Although this was not as musically challenging as other songs, it radiated memorable motives and was typical of Weill; a catchy and delightfully melodramatic, almost cinematic song. This was a great choice on Middleton’s part, especially seeing as the importance of the storyline was in dire need of being saved.
The End Of The Affair concluded with the protagonist reluctantly accepting love’s defeat and attempting to get over her heartbreak. Copland’s ‘Heart, We Will Forget Him’ is an exquisite song, displaying a glittering range of vocal, rhythmic and dynamic ability. Thankfully, Roocroft pulled this off beautifully, acting out the crux of the song incredibly effectively. Perhaps the highlight of the concert, Roocroft portrayed a woman trying to seem resilient to any emotion turmoil who was really just a vulnerable damsel underneath it all, left standing alone and of no consequence. As a finale, this was fairly appropriate, but the music itself left the story feeling unfinished. Whether this was on purpose or not is unknown to me (perhaps it was the final cadence), but I couldn’t help but feel that something was missing.
As much as I enjoyed listening to some top-drawer musicians, the page-turning aspect was so traumatic that I’m not sure if it was entirely worth it. In all seriousness though, to a paying member of the audience, this was just a combination of random songs for Soprano and piano, linked through an equivocal storyline that they could of thought of themselves. This would have been an absolutely fantastic recital, but it simply didn’t work as the quasi-operetta it was trying to be. There is no denying the sheer power and skill of Roocroft’s voice, even if it was unbearably ‘screechy’ at some points. Middleton’s accompaniment was robust, if not quite bland, refusing to change dynamics for a great deal of time. A lot of the songs were brilliant choices for the story, but some were basically just unsuitable and gave across the impression of being in there for the sake of it; a feeling I could empathise with.