Review Claron McFadden & Alexander Melnikov Recital, Wigmore Hall by James Ellis 

 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

In what might be the most strange and wonderful concert programme  seen at Wigmore, Claron McFadden & Alexander Melnikov gave us an education in avant-garde vocalise. What a treasure of an evening, Claron in her solo moments shone, Alexander proving a stunning accompanist as well as piano soloist. 

John Cage’s Aria is a quirky few minutes of chattering, squeaking and sneezing. It is amazing for its liberating stance for the singer, even La Traviata gets a reference. A thread of bizarre acapella vocal work would be heard later as well. Prokofiev’s 5 Melodies have some lovely moments for both, though can fall into that mawkish aspect that a vocalise can sometime get trapped into. Though I found moments to be a joy, Claron plunging head first into everything she does. Luciano Berio sees another glorious vocal encounter in the vain of Cage and his gang. There is more scurrying here, hand over mouth vibrations and whispering. It is, as you might think a mighty little thing to hear live. 

Berio’s singer wife Cathy Berberian, had her own turn with Stripsody. Here the singer is shown graphic comic panels and asked to deliver the sounds they see on the page. In the same vein as Cage and Berio, you get the idea but understanding the ideas behind these pieces, things which I have a lot of good to say about though some might roll their eyes. The now late Oliver Knussen got a collective of Whitman Settings. Poems from the American writer. Odd, angular piano meets the elaborate line of the verse, Claron really bringing out their best qualities. Perhaps a less interesting part of the night, though I did still find it intriguing.

Schnittke’s Improvisation and Fugue remained an eye bulging encounter. All the right notes were struck here, the series nature of Alexander coming into his own in what feels like a terror of a piece to play, maintaining a swell chromatic scale that remained enticing. A little flutter form Erwin Schulhoff and his Sonata Erotica saw more fun with Claron and Alexander got to pour water into a metal punch bowl mimicking the sound of a man urinating. This felt like another piece from what is the Dada era and left an impact. 

George Crumb’s Apparition: Elegiac Songs and Vocalises ended the programme and made for another discovery of the late, great American composer. More Whitman, the plucking of piano strings and an all round sense of the ethereal rang through the piece. The moment when Claron turned to sing right into the piano was simply magic. A difficult piece by some means, though it had a folk like charm and theatrical flare that made me smitten with these two.  

Two encores left us well appeased. Please come back! 

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