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Follow the lieder – the vocal music style is enjoying renewed popularity

The intimate, romantic sub-genre beloved of Britten and Strauss is finding its voice all over again at concerts and festivals

Like any art form, music comprises dozens of genres. Even within classical music, there are handfuls of sub-categories, from aleatory (experimental ‘chance’ music) to zarzuela (Spanish comic opera). One type of vocal music that is enjoying renewed popularity is the lied: an art song for voice and piano. Lieder – German for ‘songs’ – are musical settings of Romantic poetry from the 18th to early 20th centuries. Schubert is one of the most famous exponents, but Schumann, Britten and Strauss also penned many beloved hits. The music was ideal for salons and performances in peoples’ homes; the intimate nature of the repertoire means that today the works tend to be sung in church recitals and house concerts – the acoustic in large-scale concert halls does not lend itself to lieder.

The Oxford Lieder Festival (October 12-27) focuses on this particular strand of music: this year’s instalment pairs traditional German lieder with composers such as Carl Nielsen and Lili Boulanger, the French composer who died 100 years ago, and whose work has been sprinkled across programmes throughout 2018. Concerts take place in Oxford’s Holywell Music Room and New College Ante Chapel, among others. The crème de la crème of singers flock to the city for this annual celebration; this year, starry soprano Louise Alder (whose performances over the summer have been hugely impressive, particularly her Bernstein songs at Aldeburgh) puts in an appearance (October 15), as does Dame Sarah Connolly and Benjamin Appl (both October 22). Winners of the world’s most high-profile classical singing competitions, including the Kathleen Ferrier Awards and the Wigmore Hall International Song Competition, are also set to perform.

Historically, the lieder pianist was often considered an accompanist, rather than a duet partner, despite the highly complex keyboard writing. London’s Royal College of Music (RCM) recently renamed its Masters in Piano Accompaniment to Masters in Collaborative Piano in order to recognise the role of the pianist in music such as art song. The RCM’s alumnus Benjamin Britten is notable both for his compositions and performances of lieder with his partner, the tenor Peter Pears.

The intimate nature of the repertoire means that today the works tend to be sung in church recitals and house concerts

Another RCM piano almunus is Katya Apekisheva, who performs ‘collaborative piano’ in a variety of chamber music events. Together with Charles Owen, Apekisheva is co-artistic director of the London Piano Festival (October 3-7), an event – now in its third year – that puts the piano in the spotlight. This year’s festival, held at Kings Place, includes a two-piano marathon that will be recorded by BBC Radio 3 for a future broadcast on Radio 3 in Concert, and a family concert of The Nutcracker and I by Alexandra Dariescu with piano soloist, ballerina and digital animation.

Both Owen and Apekisheva will release solo albums to coincide with the opening concert; Apekisheva has recorded Scriabin, Chopin and Fauré impromptus on Champs Hill Records, and Owen is bringing out double-disc of Brahms’ late piano works on Avie. This follows the release of their Rachmaninoff duo recording last January.