The Belfast Cathedral Music Festival got off to a splendid start on Tuesday night, June 13, with a recital by three NI Opera singers, Elaine Pelan, Sarah Richardson and David Howes.  The Cathedral’s Master of the Choristers David Stevens provided accompaniment.

The first half presented music from as varied sources as Britten, Monteverdi, Bizet and Mozart, including a meltingly beautiful rendering of Oh! quant volte fromI Capuleti ed i Montecchi by Bellini sung by Elaine Pelan; Sarah Richardson’s Va! Lisse cooler mea Larmes from Werther by Massenet; and there were some fine duets too: Elaine Pelan and David Howes delivered a spirited Là ci dare la mano from Don Giovanni and David Howes again, this time with Sarah Richmond sang Dunque io son from Rossini’s The Barber of Seville.

After the interval the small but appreciative audience was emotionally stirred with more Bellini, this time from Sarah Richardson, then David Howes took centre stage for Brahms and Mahler.  The latter’s Ich bin der Welt was arguably the highlight of the whole evening, in the midst of memorable performances from each of these fine young artists.  Perhaps what set it apart was the feeling at its end that we had been transported to where Mahler probably composed it: amidst the forest and beside the lake.  In imagination the dying notes of David Steven’s accompaniment drifted on the breeze and suited the closing words sung by David Howes so movingly, which in translation are:

I am dead to the world’s tumult,
And I rest in a quiet realm!
I live alone in my heaven,
In my love and in my song.

It was certainly Mahler at his most reflective, holding his listeners at their most attentive.  Some gorgeous Strauss by both female singers led through to the finale, but the Mahler lingers still…

Review by Dean John Mann