Virgins, Vixens & Virigos

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Purcell; Berlioz; Duparc; Horowitz; Poulenc; Porter; Schubert; Schumann; Tchaikovsky; Wolf; Poulenc; Sondheim
ALBUM TITLE: Virgins, Vixens & Virigos
WORKS: Purcell: Tell me, some pitying angel; Berlioz: La mort de Mignon
PERFORMER: Susan Graham (soprano), Malcolm Martineau (piano)


Susan Graham is an artist to treasure, a striking mezzo whose powerful silky voice can achieve Janet Baker-like expressiveness, with a gift for French song but also a mile-wide impish streak. Pianist Malcolm Martineau is no less distinguished; so it was rather a surprise, in this intriguingly named recital, to find their opening Purcell piece heavy-handed and unstylish.

However, things improve at once with Berlioz’s Ophelia, Graham catching its tragic cadences as beautifully as ever. And the wide-ranging sequence of songs based on Mignon, the hapless heroine of Goethe’s Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship, is really impressive, Graham’s dark tone and otherworldly delivery demonstrating just how deeply this doomed, yearning waif came to embody the Romantic anguish. Schubert’s Kennst du das Land setting, more appropriate to the character, might have been welcome, but Graham makes Wolf’s so haunting one can’t complain. Horowitz’s Lady Macbeth scena may not add so much to the original but Graham’s imperiously venomous manner makes Poulenc’s trippingly surreal songs a pleasantly urbane relief. Vernon Duke’s musical numbers radiate nostalgic charm, and Graham’s characteristic ‘lollipops’, Cole Porter’s anatomically witty lament and Sondheim’s wicked Girl From Ipanema parody, leave one chuckling for all the right reasons. All told, a gem.


Michael Scott Rohan