The Opening Night of the Wigmore season has always been the refuge from the gallimaufry of the ‘Last Night of the Proms’ for those who are unenthusiastic about such things, so a concert featuring two of the great voices of our time in a programme of Schubert and Schumann was naturally sold out for months ahead. However, someone had other ideas, so instead of works by the promised composers, we were ambushed (strong term, yes, but the right one) with a programme culminating (sic) in “A selection of show tunes.”
The planning of the concert seemed to be saying – you want Lieder? OK, here’s some of the heaviest stuff in that genre you could possibly ask for; even Matthias Goerne would think twice before singing this lot one after the other! So, enjoy or suffer – but after the interval we’re taking our knickers off!
Simon Keenlyside, in wonderful voice, began with a demanding Wolf set, the challenging ‘Abschied’ (yes, ‘Goodbye,’ to begin a recital – oh the mirth!) superbly characterized in witty, engaging singing and Malcolm Martineau’s gloriously insouciant playing; this song’s nachspiel should make you want to stand up and cheer, and that’s exactly what we felt like doing. ‘Der Feuerreiter’ (yes, that one) was given an even more dramatic performance, every nuance captured in Keenlyside’s endlessly varied vocal colours.
Bryn Terfel continued the challenging thread with Schumann’s ‘Belsazar’ (yes, that one) in a performance of breathtaking skill and depth of characterization; the silence in the hall during the line ‘Buchstaben von feuer, und schrieb und schwand’ (…letters of fire, and wrote and went.) was absolute. A tender ‘Mein schöner Stern!’ followed, and finally an unscheduled ‘Die Beiden Grenadiere’ – the perfect song for this magnificent voice. Ibert’s Chansons de Don Quichotte brought the first half to a close.
After the interval, a couple of poetic Welsh songs by Meirion Williams were followed by a Warlock group mixing the familiar with the more obscure, all performed with great commitment ; Keenlyside’s ‘My own country’ was especially lovely. Then it was showtime. I’m not qualified to judge whether an urbane Cambridge graduate makes a credible bar-room Johnny, or whether the greatest Wotan of our time is heard to advantage in a piece from Camelot, but I do know that every time I hear that latter voice in stuff like this, I dream of hearing it instead in – ooh, let’s say ‘How Willing My Paternal Love’ or ‘Mache dich, Mein Herze, rein.’ Martineau’s playing was a delight throughout, and ‘Brush Up Your Shakespeare’ was much enjoyed by that portion of the audience (at a guess, I’d say 40%) not still smarting from being deprived of something more akin to ‘Frühlingsglaube.’
Further details of Wigmore Hall concerts can be found at wigmore-hall.org.uk.