BY THOMAS MISSON
Lotte Betts-Dean (voice) and Joseph Havlat (piano)
Hobart Town Hall, 27 April
Judith Weir’s Songs from the Exotic provided a succinct opening to the recital. Betts-Dean’s light choreography added subtle weight to this very lean song cycle, further enhanced by compelling timbral shades in The Song of a Girl Ravished Away By The Fairies. Havlat’s rapid passagework poured into the town hall with easy stability and fluidity during In the Lovely Village of Nevesinje.
Havlat’s technical assuredness continued with an efficient tour of different transport experiences from the 1920s in Poulenc’s solo piano set Promenades. The control of melodic line was well-judged and each technical challenge dealt calmly, any overt theatricality only used as garnish. The velocious, noisy, beeping, wacky-racer style of En Auto was a highlight; as was En Avion, where Havlat brought serenity to dissonance, nonchalantly lacing melodic material over rising, pillar-like chords. En Voiture is a pensive movement, unhurriedly observing its surroundings and scenery as a traveller would; while the unsteadily undulating, halted, hitched momentum perhaps illustrative of a penny-farthing ride featured in A Bicylette.
The meat of the recital was Messiaen’s immense and multifaceted song cycle Harawi. During Bonjour Toi Colombe Verde, Havlat folded the harmonies across the keyboard like ornate staircases, pushing the town hall’s Steinway thrillingly close to its limits in softer moments. Betts-Dean and Havlat achieved a detailed and committed artistic union in the granitic seriousness and extreme changes of Montagnes. In L’amour de Piroutcha, Betts-Dean’s dynamic range proved to be among the widest of any singer I have experienced to date.
Repetition Planaterie was the highlight of the evening for me: dizzying, orbiting, hallucinogenic patterns of piano chords with primal, almost Tarzanesque vocal undulations heavily contrasted by an existentially numb dirge. This movement had a direct and natural intensity from Betts-Dean while the difficult piano part was approached with unflinching calmness and confidence from Havlat.
Betts-Dean charged fearlessly into the phonetically demanding lines of Syllabes where short fragments of words are spat percussively into existence. The long repetitive streams of syllables floated towards me like growing series of bubbles, popping only to have more take its place. This exciting and strange movement was also an impressive feat of rhythmic synchronicity given the live environment. Once more Havlat was demonstrably not phased by the difficult piano part. The fragile eroticism of Amour Oiseau’s harmonies was decorated delicately by stars and diverse, conversational birdlife from Havlat complimented by Betts-Dean’s soft and tender treatment of the text.
Katchikatchi les Etoiles was also a highlight with its moments of blindingly bright harmonies, the words describing stars, atoms and space presented in a surrealist collage. Havlat gave an eccentrically surreal colour to the imaginative piano writing. An image of furiously ringing, otherworldly wind chimes came to my mind while Betts-Dean upheld this cosmic gravitas superbly.
Harawi is a considerably demanding song cycle in its mood changes from complete stillness to bizarre ecstatic frenzy to hushed, austere chanting; the epicurean, loving comfort and the splintering brightness. Despite all of this, both performers gave an assured interpretation of this massive cycle; the warmth, sensitivity and intent never at the mercy of any of these challenges.
Read our interview with Lotte Betts-Dean on this challenging repertoire.