Music at Paxton

Ruby Hughes and Joseph Middleton

Paxton House

Miranda Heggie

three stars

WITH a programme of German Lieder and British folksongs, soprano Ruby Hughes and pianist Joseph Middleton gave Friday evening’s recital at Paxton. Opening with a set of four Schubert songs, Hughes sang with a smooth and honeyed tone, though at times she lacked the vocal power and suppleness needed to make the songs come alive.

Her performance of Schumann’s Frauenliebe und -leben (a Woman’s Love and Life) was more compelling. Set to the text of German poet and botanist Albert von Chamisso, the cycle depicts various milestones in one woman’s life, including the birth of her first child and the overwhelming love she feels. Hughes introduced the cycle as one very personal to her, having recently had her own first child. Her closeness to the text was evident, despite it being her first public performance of the work. There was some very sophisticated storytelling here from both singer and pianist, Middleton exquisitely colouring and shading Schuman’s harmonies. The solo piano in the closing bars of the final song was both sweet and sorrowful, and a moving end to the cycle.

Fitting for Paxton’s location right on the border, the second half of the evening began with a set of five Britten folksongs from both Scotland and England. Britten’s ingenious arrangements bring out in the accompaniment so much of what’s implicit in these well loved tunes, and Middleton yet again showed himself to be a master of his craft, illuminating the songs’ different moods. Sadly, the singing didn’t always match up, with a couple of messy entries and less than perfect intonation. Strangely, Hughes’ best performance was in her encore, where she sang a Hebrew prayer by Ravel with a vocal freedom up until then unencountered.