sat 15/06/2024

Fatma Said, Tim Allhoff, Lafayette Club review - from Fauré to the Middle East and back | reviews, news & interviews

Fatma Said, Tim Allhoff, Lafayette Club review - from Fauré to the Middle East and back

Fatma Said, Tim Allhoff, Lafayette Club review - from Fauré to the Middle East and back

Eclectic programme shows all the colours and textures of Said's wonderful rich voice

A serious talent kicking up her heels: Fatma SaidJames Bort/Warner

It’s proving to be an extraordinary year for Cairo-born soprano Fatma Said, one of the most exciting musicians to bridge the gap between the Arab and the Western classical music worlds. This April she made her debut at the Carnegie Hall, while as artist in residence at the Wiener Konzerthaus she will be collaborating with musicians including Marin Alsop and the acclaimed Polish countertenor Jakub Jozef Orlinski.

Last night, however, in the second concert she has performed for Through the Noise, she told the audience that “When I looked back at my year this was absolutely one of my highlights”. Last time she’d appeared for the organisation in the Oslo club in Hackney, this time she was singing at the new Lafayette Club at Kings Cross and she took full advantage of the setting to deploy a repertoire that was as heartfelt as it was experimental.  

She began on a traditional note with Fauré’s "Après un Rêve", one of his early works written in the 1870s. It’s a beautiful piece and not a difficult one but Said used it to demonstrate all the colours and textures of her wonderful, rich voice. In the lower notes, there was a sense of dark silkiness while as she reached the higher range the notes shimmered with ghostly silver. It was a hypnotic beginning to the joyfully eclectic programme to come.

We remained in France but travelled forward 70 years for her delivery of Poulenc’s swooping, lyrical "Les chemins de l’amour". Here, at the same time as revelling in the sense of light and weightlessness in the more effervescent passages she also played with the song’s elasticity, drawing out the pauses for full humorous effect.

Tim AllhoffHer accompanist for the evening was the Munich-based pianist and composer Tim Allhoff (pictured right by Maximilian Koenig), one of the musicians she collaborated with for her most recent album, Kaleidoscope. Allhoff brought his own star quality to proceedings, displaying a wit and virtuoso versatility that heightened the sense of sophisticated fun. That started to come to the fore in Said’s performance of "Ne Me Quitte Pas" from Les Parapluies de Cherbourg, previously sung by Catherine Deneuve (in the film) and Marianne Faithfull among others. While Said’s voice excavated all the velvety longing and regret from the music, Allhoff brought a subtle modern jazz inflection to the cascading accompaniment, injecting a gentle dynamism into the nostalgia.  

Following the French dominated opening we moved into the Arab section of the concert – “Are there any Arabs in the house?” Said asked to responding whoops. First she sang the Egyptian song "Bahlam Maak", composed by Hani Shenouda, in which the singer dreams of facing the challenges of a voyage on a ship with the man she loves. Here, through gentle tilts of the voice, she gave a full sense of the shifts in mood as the singer imagines each possible scenario. This was followed by "Sahar El Layali"  by Elias Rahbani, a more serpentine, almost hallucinatory work in which the rasping vowels resonated hauntingly round the auditorium.

A particularly powerful moment came when Said performed "Ad Ay Sa’ab", a piece written specially for her by Tamer Hussein and inspired by the famous Argentinian tango-style song "El Choclo" composed by Angel Villoldo. The song is an address to hardworking women and girls across the Arab world, and as it rang out across the crowd it was clear that Said’s proud, vigorous delivery came from the heart.

Allhoff’s technically sparkling jazz improvisation on the Beatles’ "Blackbird" provided a hypnotic interlude, then we were into the American section of the evening, kicking off with William Bolcom’s "Song of Black Max" from his Cabaret Songs written in 1978. In this Said more than demonstrated how her comedic timing more than matches her musical timing. Afterwards we were treated to Gershwin: "The Man I Love", "Summertime" and "By Strauss". Of these the first was the strongest, given a full shimmering sensual delivery, and though "Summertime" wasn’t a definitive rendition, it wonderfully showed her effortless range.

By this point we were very much in cabaret mode – and after another interlude from Allhoff performing a work from his MORLA album, the evening rounded off "What I Did for Love" from A Chorus Line, "Misty" by Erroll Garner and "I Love a Piano" by Irving Berlin. Probably it says all you need to know about the maturity and resonance of Said’s voice that in "Misty", when she sang “I’m as helpless as a kitten up a tree”, she sounded more like a lioness. This woman was the first Egyptian soprano to perform at Milan’s great Teatro All Scala – in this more intimate setting there was a real sense of a serious talent enjoying kicking up her heels. It seems there's little doubt that Through the Noise will be seeing more appearances from Said in the future.

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