Sunday, 14 April 2013

Lunchtime recital at St Mary Magdalene Munster Square

Thursday 11 April: an unexpected treat today at the lunchtime recital series at Munster Square, often just a piano recital. Arriving late and unwrapping my sandwich outside to avoid annoying people with paper rustling noises, some rather amazing singing is audible as I push through the inner vestibule door. The door snaps shut behind me, fortunately with a muffled swish rather than a bang. When the song ends it's permissible to walk around the back and find a seat on the far side of the nave, trying not to make the chair creak too much. The front row is empty as usual: I choose an end seat two rows back.The singer is soprano Charlotte Richardson. She cuts a striking figure, standing in the curve of the grand piano with the stained glass and religious iconography as a backdrop, with her big hair and widow's peak, filling the huge empty space with pure clear notes, punctuated with the hisses and glottal stops of sung German, unexpectedly rolling the Rs. She's singing nineteenth century pieces by Liszt and Schumann, and rather later pieces by Richard Strauss, sixteen songs in all, all of them presumably unfamiliar to anyone except a true aficionado of the genre.

For me, it's a touch of the unexpected magic that sometimes happens when you go to a recital knowing nothing about the performers or the music, and find yourself not wanting the moment to end. The songs have lurid titles: "I cannot grasp or believe it", "He, the noblest of all", "Now you have caused me pain for the first time". She explains the story of some of the them: Strauss's 'Die Nacht', she tells us, is about a woman and "her fears that the creeping shadows of the night, that steal away all colour and life from her room, will also steal away her lover..." Romantic histrionics, then, best appreciated in a language you don't understand. My sandwich remains half-wrapped, uneaten until it's time to go outside into the rain.