A farewell concert can be both a joyous and sad occasion. On Saturday 24 May there was a lot of joy, much love and a suitable modicum of lamentation in the room prior to the departure of mezzo soprano, Sophia Mitchell, to undertake further study at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama.
Sophia Mitchell had a cough. It may have affected her singing, but it was not noticeable. Her rich mezzo voice managed the runs in Sulpita Cesi’s (1557-?) Maria Magdalena without apparent discomfort. She teamed with soprano Danielle Grant for two lovely and well matched duets: O Dulcisamor, Jesu (Assendra, c 1590-?) and O invictissima Christi martir (Vizzana 1590-1662) accompanied by noted harpsichord player Diana Weston. Reaching the more familiar territory of Henry Purcell with O Solitude characterised by deep lower register and soaring fortissimo in the higher sections. Diana Weston then treated us to a Harpsichord suite, while Sophia prepared herself for Handel and Monteverdi. The Handel Non esce un guardomai was sensitively accompanied by cello played by Catherine Upex. Sophia Mitchell knows how to ‘sell’ a song with its pathos captured beautifully. Her longest piece L’amento D’Arianna by Monteverdi was sung without music and again Sophia Mitchell’s capacity to capture the despairing mood of the piece was manifest.
After interval we heard five John Dowland songs accompanied by the lute played by Alex Cronin. My view is Dowland does not need too much ornamentation. Sophia, however, took a more ‘operatic’ approach that emphasised the melody, without compromising the simplicity of the words. Still in lamentation mode the first song was Goe, nightly cares, followed by a heartfelt rendering of Sorrow, sorrow stay. We emerged from the sorrow with Goe crystal teares. Sophia ‘lived’ this song, and then she gave us a seductive account of Can she excuse my wronges? This bracket was completed in association with soprano Megan Cronin. They urged us to Come away, come, sweet love.
After another interval we heard some gorgeous three part singing from Sophia Mitchell and Megan Cronin with Alex Cronin providing sung harmony underneath the two women, while he continued to play lute. Two pieces by des Prez (1450-1521) Ave Verum and Veni, electa mea were followed by a piece, by the ubiquitous Madame Anon, on that rare commodity an English Saint, St Stephen, a rollicking piece with Alex Cronin on the gittern – a lute-like instrument. Sophia and Megan then gave us a beautifully realised duet of Purcell’s Love, thou are best. We had moved from the dolours of lamentation into suitably controlled ecstasy of love. For Monteverdi piece Zefiro torna, Alex Cronin produced a 90 string triple baroque harp (from cold storage to keep the gut at the right temperature). The two women did the runs and ‘twiddles’ this piece requires with exact coordination. The concert finished with a risqué Irish traditional song about hanky panky on the Next Market Day and a more recent Francis McPeake song Wild Mountain Thyme sung and played gorgeously.
Having not heard Sophia Mitchell sing before I couldn’t really assess how affected she was by her cough although when she sang by herself, she seemed overly careful in maintaining the line. I would love to hear her sing outside the early music baroque periods. She has the chocolate-like sound of an accomplished mezzo coupled with a capacity to put all her vocal and corporeal effort into her singing. Moreover she chose her collaborators well and demonstrated a deft touch for choosing a repertoire with an intelligent narrative. One can never know how a younger singer will go in the tougher European world. I certainly look forward to her return with her skills sharpened and her personality unbruised.