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The force of nature that is Barbara Hannigan – performer, conductor, mentor, director – pauses long enough to provide us with one of the most delicious recitals of the year. Fin de Siècle focuses on the final Viennese swoon of tonality before musical revolution gate-crashed the party; songs from Schoenberg, Webern, Berg, Zemlinsky, Alma Mahler and Wolf. Exquisitely overwrought poetry set to the most luscious music, and, with 31 items, a generous offering. Hannigan and her pianist, Reinbert de Leeuw, work seamlessly together to create a magical sound world. Her voice has a surprising richness, almost voluptuous, for the Schoenberg and Berg, but she adopts a far more blanched tone for the Webern. And she certainly isn’t afraid to use portamenti but resists swooping and scooping, always maintaining a sense of line and destination.

It would be easy for the whole exercise to become syrupy, but Hannigan provides a certain welcome astringency to keep things sharp. In this she is abetted by de Leeuw, who is happy to fade into the background when highlighting his soprano, or to take centre stage with a judicious effect. What could become drowsy or blowsy is given a clean and elegant reading, a real case of intelligent performance proving that sometimes less really can be more.

Francis Muzzu Read the full review on Agora Classica

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