Review: Joan Rodgers and Benedict Nelson, at the Barber Institute, University of Birmingham

In theory it was a brilliant idea to turn this Barber 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 (together they played Mahler's four-hands arrangement of that composer's Third Symphony).
 
But in practice it didn't quite work out. So many of Mahler's songs have orchestral, often symphonic contexts; Wolf's are more concise, almost elliptical, and reveal schizophrenic personalities (Wagner and Johann Strauss in the same little offering, Abschied, would you believe) 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 such example of this 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.