In theory it was a brilliant idea to turn this concert into a celebration of Mahler and Wolf, both great Viennese songsmiths, both born 150 years ago, and both disciples of their teacher Anton Bruckner.
But in practice it didn’t quite work out. So many of Mahler’s songs have orchestral, symphonic contexts; Wolf’s are more concise, almost elliptical, and reveal schizophrenic personalities which are surely symptomatic of the mental collapse which led to his early death.
Nor did it help that the platform manner of the two singers was so different, the vastly experienced Joan Rodgers so mobile in body-language and facial expression, Benedict Nelson, still at the outset of his career, frequently unyielding in his demeanour. On the occasions when he did relax, the musical gains were enormous.
One example was Mahler’s Dureresque Revelge, though it did also give ample scope for the stridency of Roger Vignoles’ pianism. Yes, Mahler’s textures and sonorities are bigger than the piano, and Vignoles delivered them marvellously, yet, particularly when accompanying the nuanced mezzo-like tones of Rodgers, they seemed overpowering.
The whole evening lacked the sense of a true collaboration. We were a very long way from the likes of Felicity Lott and Thomas Allen.