Elizabeth Llewellyn, Simon Lepper, St. John’s, Smith Square

Posted on April 14th, 2011

The first thing you notice about Elizabeth Llewellyn’s voice is the bloom – a plushy, covered quality that extends pretty much throughout the range and only hardens under pressure at the top. The slightly chilly St. John’s acoustic took some of the warmth out of it but the impression one took away was that this is still a voice one can work with, a voice of as yet untapped potential.

Most of her problems have to do with word clarity (not unusual) and a slightly disconcerting uniformity of colour which this shrewdly chosen Rosenblatt Recital programme should not have highlighted. It began with a warm-up of sorts through some scornful and slightly sticky pyrotechnics in “Ma quando tornerai” from Handel’s Alcina. Llewellyn’s pianist Simon Lepper probably wished he could have started over and repaired the scramble of fluffed notes and scrambled rhythm.

Then came the first glimpse of Llewellyn’s real quality with the poised legato and regretful tone of “Dove sono”. Llewellyn’s readiness to take on Mozart’s Countess Almaviva at Opera Holland Park this summer was plain to hear despite a hint or two of flattening pitch in the cabaletta. But the dignity and bitter-sweetness of it came through, as did the very real sense that Llewellyn gains enormously from inhabiting a character and finding their emotional centre.

She should work (as all sopranos must) on using consonants more. The wit and élan of Walton’s word setting throughout A Song for the Lord Mayor’s Table came over as a bit occluded, the fizz and wryness of the humour evident only in Llewellyn’s knowing smile.

Strauss becomes her. She is still wanting in a little more natural height at the top of the voice but the placing of the voice, the fioritura elements, are accomplished and she can really get to the poignant heart of a song like “Nachtgang”.

She then reminded us of her big-hearted Mimi at ENO recently, of the difficulty of Amelia’s entrance aria in Verdi’s Simon Boccanegra (though not, interestingly enough, the exposed high B), and she made light of Marguerite’s Jewel Song from Gounod’s Faust – accomplished in all but the French.

Her encore was a simple song “Sweet Chance” and its modesty told us that with a spirit this willing the other stuff can be fixed.

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