“The astonishing Ewa Podleś returned to the Wigmore Hall after an absence of 16 years. This time it was an all-Russian and Polish programme and it culminated in Mussorgsky Songs and Dances of Death.
    And how she made Death sing! Not in those civilized, neutral or even kindly tones we’ve become increasingly used to, but like the potentate he is. This was the singer of deadly lullaby, the predatory serenader, the grim harvester who dances at the reaps, the field marshal who feasts upon the fallen. This lullaby snapped shut, like a trap on its last lull; ever so gently the serenader might woo and cajole but always in reserve a chest-voice of steel would be in waiting ready to spring out of the gathering shadows.
    The power and range of this tone was fenomenal. The middle register is a vast roundness, at first strangely sexless (something of the owl-like male alto in its timbre), but settling in as part of the voice’s fascinating repertoire of colours and textures.
    We did not hear the topmost notes in action, as for Rossini, but could guess at the quality they may still possess, belying the singer’s 54 years. And her personality, outgoing and generous like the voice itself, warmed the hall. It was like hearing some fabled singers of the past, old Schumann-Heink perhaps.
    With her on the platform was the distinguished pianist Garrick Ohlsson. His solo, Szymanowski’s Masques, was a mastery display of sustained and imaginative virtuosity, matching the singer’s. We blessed the anonymous donor who supported them”.

May 2008

by John Steane