fri 14/06/2024

Anne Sofie von Otter, Milton Court | reviews, news & interviews

Anne Sofie von Otter, Milton Court

Anne Sofie von Otter, Milton Court

The Swedish mezzo brings a taste of France to London's newest concert venue

Anne Sofie von Otter - A Swede in Douce France

There’s nowt so French as the mélodie and the chanson, but I’m not convinced they make ideal bedfellows. Nor, I suspect, is Anne Sofie von Otter, since she split the salon and cabaret halves of her Douce France recital with an interval (and the CD release of the same name with a change of disc).

The art song and the popular tune may spring from the same national sensibility but they have little in common: the one is subtle and born of poetry, the other musically primitive and emotionally blatant. The francophile in me loves them both – an enthusiasm I probably share with the Swedish mezzo – but that does not mean they sit happily together in concert. Pleasant as both are, you don’t serve a blanquette de veau side by side with a croque monsieur.

And you don’t serve either on a plastic plate. It was my first visit to Milton Court and the acoustics came as a big, jarring surprise. The shock of the new – and not in a good way. The hall has a peculiar resonance that does no favours to the human voice; its halo of tinniness may conceivably suit some types of music but it damaged three nuanced songs by Fauré and did little to enhance the salon-romantic world of Reynaldo Hahn. Only Ravel’s cool style overcame the chill environment: “D’Anne jouant de l’espinette” and the “Ballade de la reine morte d’aimer” were high points of a mixed first half during which von Otter’s regular pianist, Bengt Forsberg, made a hash of three solo pieces – one each by Fauré, Debussy and Alkan – that arrived overcooked, overpedalled and smudged.

Ms von Otter can seduce a mic to the manner born

It didn’t help that the recital was given in near-darkness with the performers picked out in pools of light. But for the serried ranks and poor sightlines we might have been at Ronnie Scott’s. No texts or translations were included in the programme (unreadable in the dark anyway), which is a nonsense in repertoire whose literary inspirations are part and parcel of the music. There’s an art to presenting song recitals, and before they mount another the Milton Court promoters could do worse than take a fact-finding trip to Wigmore Hall.

All these deficiencies became irrelevant after the interval once microphones and foldback speakers had been installed and von Otter, Forsberg and accordionist Bengan Janson opted for the kind of disembodied intimacy that only amplification can provide. It’s certainly one way of cowing a bothersome acoustic.

Chansonniers like Barbara, Georges Moustaki and Léo Ferré are great names outre-Manche but they rarely reach these shores. Some things just don’t travel: Chas ‘n’ Dave probably don’t get much of a look-in over there either. The hall was full of French people, residents of France’s sixth city by size of population who’ve been starved of their musical home-brew since crossing the Channel. Ironic that it took three Swedes to slake their thirst.

Ms von Otter is a slinky yet versatile singer who can seduce a mic to the manner born. She revelled in Moustaki’s “Le Facteur” and Barbara’s “Quel joli temps” and, although neither she nor Forsberg has a natural sense of swing (they trudged through Ferré’s “A Saint Germain des Prés”, noses in scores), her pronunciation and sense of idiom are impeccable. That gorgeous voice is still a joy, whatever the repertoire, and there is no doubting the intelligence and care with which she must have prepared her programme. On her next visit to these shores I hope she will opt for a single style and a more amenable venue.

You don’t serve a blanquette de veau side by side with a croque monsieur


Editor Rating: 
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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