Review: Leeds Lieder Festival, A Spiritual Solestice, Leeds Town Hall - streaming until Sunday, July 18

GUSTAV Mahler’s Rückert-Lieder formed the centrepiece of Alice Coote’s and Christian Blackshaw’s thoughtfully curated programme of English, German and Russian songs.

The five settings to texts by Friedrich Rückert were composed in 1901-02 for mezzo soprano and orchestra, or piano. Coote and Blackshaw began with the blissful Ich atmet’ einen linden Duft - I Breathed a Gentle Fragrance.

Then came the urgency of Blicke mir nicht in die Lieder - Do not pry into my songs. Mahler did not like anyone else to see his compositions before they were finished.

Liebst du um schönheit - If you love for beauty’s sake - was a charming gift from Mahler to his young bride Alma Schindler. This is the only one of the five not orchestrated by Mahler.

The duo continued with the bleak but ultimately triumphal Um Mitternacht - At Midnight. Blackshaw’s accompaniment at this point sounded restrained where virtuosity might have been anticipated.

Singer and pianist ended with the deeply touching Ich bin der welt abhanden gekommen - I am lost to the world. Coote’s spectrum of vocal colouring from rich mezzo to lyric-dramatic soprano is arguably unmatched, although for my taste, less suited to the rapturous love song.

Saturday evening’s entertaining recital asked us to imagine what if. What if Fiordiligi and Dorabella were Lieder singers? Graham Johnson’s ingenious programme removes the sisters in love, together with the scheming Don Alfonso, from Mozart’s opera Cosi fan tutte. Johnson transports them, and us, to a world inhabited by Hugo Wolf, Kurt Weill, Irving Berlin and many more. Soprano Soraya Mafi, mezzo soprano Ema Niklovska and the bass William Thomas eloquently interpreted in song such human traits as constancy, capitulation, abandon and reconcilliation. Johnson’s dry narrations from the keyboard set the scene to perfection.

by Geoffrey Mogridge