Review: Jennifer Davis and Caroline Dowdle, Buxton International Festival

Jennifer Davis

Jennifer Davis introduced her recital by saying that she and Caroline were presenting songs that they loved singing and playing. As such it was something of a chocolate box selection and each of us would have favourites, but would there be anything left in the box that nobody wanted?

For example she rounded off with four relatively familiar pieces in English which combined wit and wistfulness. Jonathan Dove’s ‘musical tale’ The Enchanted Pig was commissioned by the Young Vic and the pre-wedding aria given to Adelaide allows her to throw a proper hissy fit. A remarkable aspect of Jennifer’s performance was her ability to switch moods so completely from one song to the next.

So Benjamin Britten’s arrangement of The Last Rose of Summer, Edmund Pendleton’s setting of James Joyce’s Bid Adieu to Girlish Day’s and an unaccompanied singing of Danny Boy provided a trio of Irish airs – plaintive, tender, and slightly sentimental, but no one was complaining. The aria Quando me’n vo from Puccini’s La boheme was another easy pick.

At the core of the recital – and perhaps chewier – were Rachmaninov’s 6 Romances – his last group of songs written in 1916 the year before he left revolutionary Russia. His settings of contemporary verse are demanding individually of singer and pianist but more so collectively. Rachmaninov was evidently pleased with this set of songs and though he worked on them with Marietta Shaginian he dedicated them to a lover, the soprano Nina Koshetz.

Just as Jennifer chose English language songs to conclude she began with the French language and compositions by Gounod, Poulenc and Debussy. Each was a bite-sized mouthful. The Debussy included evocations of moments shared by lovers. Poulenc’s brief set Metamorphoses includes the beautiful C’est ainsi que tu es which also suggests romance and passion.

With 19 songs in an hour the programme never really settled into a particular mood but the quality of the singing and musicianship was never in doubt and Jennifer Davis and Caroline Dowdle captivated a near-capacity hall.

Keith Savage