Guest review by Jennifer Mckerras
One of the great joys of lunchtime recitals is having the opportunity to see young performers at the beginning of their professional careers. And two such were given a prime performance opportunity at St Martin-in-the-Fields on 24 October. Chanae Curtis (soprano) and Ella O’Neill (piano) garnered a large and appreciative audience for their recital, including a half-term crowd of families with children of all ages.
Curtis and O’Neill began their programme with Beethoven’s Ah! Perfido, Op.65. They continued with Three Poems of Fiona MacLeod by C.T. Griffes, and concluded with a selection of lieder by Strauss.
Chanae Curtis has a truly superb voice: velvety caramel in tone. She also has a tremendous range of colour and force, which this programme fully exploited. The very first item (Beethoven) is a long and complicated piece for both singer and accompanist, and requires several mood changes. Curtis and O’Neill guided the audience through all the twists and turns of the aria, and received justifiably rapturous applause at its end.
It was, however, in the American repertoire that Curtis really shone. She seemed to relax and connect with the audience in a way that had not been as present in the Beethoven. The Griffes songs are perhaps a little less well known by British audiences, and really deserve to be known better. Curtis’ handling of the texts was deft and well-nuanced, though sometimes the very full acoustic of the church building caused the text to be lost.
Ella O’Neill is currently undertaking postgraduate studies at Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama with Simon Lepper. In this recital she was a masterful accompanist, and I think has a tremendous future. She navigated the twists and turns of mood in the Beethoven with aplomb, and her handling of the Griffes and the Strauss lieder was delicate and assured. O’Neill has a great stage presence: calm and unfussed, she has developed the gift of allowing the music to speak for itself. This is a tremendous ability in a player at the beginning of her professional career! She is also adept in giving both soloist and audience total confidence in her playing; one feels that very little could shake her.
The Strauss lieder were delivered with great assurance from both performers, and were hugely enjoyed by the audience. The encore was a spiritual, He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands, in an arrangement by Margaret Bonds. Again, Curtis found a new level of connection with the audience and the text – she positively glowed as she sang. It is a pleasure to see a performer wholeheartedly inhabit the music in this way.
The reception for Curtis and O’Neill was overwhelmingly positive; even the half-term passers-by stayed captivated until the end. These performers are certainly a pair to watch for the future.