Preview: The 8th Oxford Lieder Festival

There's an all star line up as Oxford gears up for its annual celebration of song.

11 October 2009

Joan RodgersWithin less than a decade, Oxford Lieder has become one of the most important promoters of song in the UK, and the Eighth Oxford Lieder Festival, which runs from 16 to 31 October, looks set to build on the success of previous years in considerable style.

As fans of the festival have come to expect, the event offers an exciting mixture of established and up-and-coming singers and pianists, as well as a series of masterclasses and other educational events open to the public. The innovative approach to programming continues, too, giving audiences a chance both to reacquaint themselves with the established greats of the song repertoire and explore lesser known works for the first time. And all of this takes place within a series of venues that reflect the extraordinary history and heritage of Oxford.
The festival's founder and Artistic Director, Sholto Kynoch, is at the piano for the opening concert which sees baritone William Berger join mezzo-soprano Rowan Hellier for a programme bringing together songs by Mahler, Schumann, Brahms and Sinding based on Brentano and Arnem's extraordinarily influential collection of folk poetry, Des Knaben Wunderhorn (16 October, 8pm). The first weekend of the festival is then largely devoted to Benjamin Britten, with Julius Drake presiding over three concerts featuring all of the composer's five Canticles (with tenor Daniel Norman) in carefully devised programmes that include other works by Britten, as well as pieces by Beethoven, Schubert and Purcell (17 October 8pm; 18 October 11.30 & 2.30 pm).

Another highlight comes in the form of a performance of Winterreise by the Austrian baritone Wolfgang Holzmair, with pianist Andreas Haefliger (20 October 8pm), while soprano Joan Rodgers brings a programme of Pushkin settings – tying in with her latest release on Hyperion – to the Holywell Music Room on 24 October (again 8pm, accompanied by Malcolm Martineau). The concert is followed by a rare performance of Schoenberg's Das Buch der hängenden Gärten, to take place at 10pm in the evocative atmosphere of New College's Ante-Chapel; mezzo Diana Moore is accompanied by John Reid and the concert includes Haydn's Arianna a Naxos.

The Mendelssohn anniversary is celebrated by Song Circle, the cream of the singing crop at the Royal Academy of Music, in the Holywell on 21 October 8pm and a late recital including a selection of his Songs without Words with Martin Sturfält, again in the New College Ante-Chapel (30 October 10pm). That concert follows another highlight as, earlier the same evening, the British baritone Christopher Maltman tackles Schubert's Die schöne Müllerin with Graham Johnson; a full house of Schubert cycles is completed, in the final concert of the festival, by James Gilchrist and Anna Tilbrook perfoming Schwanengesang (31 October 8pm).

Other highlights in a packed schedule include Werner Güra perfoming Schumann's Dichterliebe and Wolf with Roger Vignoles (29 October 8pm), Schumann too from Roderick Williams (the Op. 35 Kerner-Lieder, with songs by Korngold and Mahler) in a recital on 26 October, a study day and concert exploring fin-de-siècle Paris on 31 October, and The Prince Consort giving the European premiere of Ned Rorem's Evidence of Things Not Seen (25 October 8pm). All this, in addition to a wide selection of lunchtime concerts and other events, as well as educational projects already underway in local schools, adds up to an outstanding celebration of song.

For full details see the Oxford Lieder Website.

By Hugo Shirley