Joo Cho and Marino Nahon

Songs to warm a winter evening at Leighton Buzzard Music Club

Those of us who braved the bleak midwinter to attend December’s recital enjoyed an evening of songs by two more talented young performers enticed to Leighton Buzzard by the very clever committee of the LB Music Club. Haverhill in Cambridgeshire run a well respected music competition each year. Singers don’t often win it – but Joo Cho did in 2009 and, as a result, has been prevailed upon to take the stage in the Library Theatre with her very fine accompanist Marino Nahon. Their partnership appeared mature, seamless, as if they’d been playing together for years.

He, of course, only has to play in one language … and did so with an element of theatricality that, personally, I always appreciate in a pianist. At times he hovered over the keyboard like a hunting cat searching out the heart of the music.

Joo Cho, the South Korean singer, moved seamlessly from language to language as well as from style to style, dealing now with the lyricism of french, now the passion of spanish, now the explosive vocal combinations of german. Her soprano voice was as warm and mellow as liquid chocolate, powerful and tender at need.

The songs were grouped into four sections. The three sections in the first half comprised short and delightfully accessible pieces, with a pleasant variety within the little cycles and across them too. We began with Fauré; his luscious, lyrical songs are always favourites of mine. Here were a little suite of five – two of his better known songs sandwiched between three perhaps less well-known. These were followed with five love songs by Brahms, himself  both a lyrical and Romantic German composer. Finally in the first half of the concert we enjoyed a suite by the spanish composer Joaquin Turina (who was new to me). Nahon began this with a spirited piano solo; Joo Cho completed the suite with four songs running a gamut between yearning and passion.

The second half of the concert was given over to Schubert songs, some well-known, some less so; some ‘Troutish’ if I may put it thus, some more dramatic – tending even to the melodramatic – some yearning, some serious. Nobody does angst like Schubert; his passions roil, his heartbeats pound and then … ah! … all fails and we’re suddenly swooping down towards death and doom. What a master of song he was as a composer – and how delightfully his songs were rendered for us by Cho and Nahon.

I was surprised when Mr Phillips told me that singers don’t attract big audiences. Instrumentalists is what people want to listen to, apparently, rather than singers. What an opportunity missed. One may revel in the big guns of an operatic performance – such as the relatively recent Tosca, perhaps, at Milton Keynes theatre – but performances of the quality and intimacy of this recital in Leighton Buzzards’ Library Theatre are rare and precious. Especially so now that we don’t sing in our own parlours any longer, preferring to let X Factor contestants do that for us of an evening.


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