Christopher Maltman is a regular and welcome visitor to the Wigmore Hall, so it came as no surprise that there was a packed and appreciative audience for this recital that took the city of Venice as its starting point. The first half was devoted to songs by Faur, Schubert, Schumann, Mendelssohn and Hahn, all of whom had been influenced by the Italian city.
Beginning with Faures Cinq melodies de Venise Maltman and his wonderfully supportive accompanist Malcolm Martineau chartered Faures dreamy cityscape with suitably Gallic lan, affording Maltman plenty of opportunity to revel in wonderful half-shades and some exquisitely honeyed mezza-voce singing, no more so than in the second song, En sourdine (Muted), which with its seductively lilting ostinato accompaniment evoked the gentle lapping of the waves on the canal. He then brought out the humour in Schumanns Two Venetian songs from Myrthen Op.25 and then sang Schuberts Gondelfahrer (The gondolier) as if it were a lullaby, sensitively deploying his head voice for the closing lines Sie schlummern friedlich Alle, Und nur der Schiffer wacht everyone sleeps in peace, and only the boatmans awake.
Hahns Venezia: Six chansons en dialecte vnitien was given the full operatic treatment, at turns funny, tragic and enchanting, with Maltman pulling out all the stops for the climax to the first song, Sopra lacqua indormenzada (Asleep on the water), indeed his voice has grown considerably since the last time I heard him in recital yet luckily still retains the chestnut-brown quality that it always had.
After the interval we were treated to Schuberts Three Lieder to texts by Metastasio D902, where Maltman revelled in the bravado of Il traditor deluso (The deluded traitor) almost a mini-opera in itself with its recitative and bravura aria Ah laria dintorno lampeggia sfavilla (The air around me flashes and sparkles), and it certainly did here. Schuberts Three Lieder to texts by Rckert followed, and here Maltman seemed at his most relaxed, basking in the serenity of Du bist die Ruh (You are repose), where he sustained a wonderful line from start to finish.
In many ways Maltman had saved the best until last, as he gave a glowing account of Mahlers Five Lieder to texts by Rckert, beginning with the sublime Ich atmet einen linden Duft (I breathed a gentle fragrance). Here Maltmans fusion of words and notes was exemplary, and he went on to bring a wide range of colour to the glorious Liebst du um Schonheit (If you love for beauty). The contrast with Um Mitternacht (At midnight) couldnt have been greater as he caught the sense of desolation of this song to perfection, ending with a rafter-rattling climax. The final song Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen (I am lost to the world) had the right sense of resignation yet was sung with such simplicity that it proved to be ultimately uplifting. Throughout the evening Maltman delivered the whole gamut of emotion, equally at home in French, Italian and German and for his two encores delivered weighty operatic arias from Verdis I due Foscari and Ponchiellis La Gioconda in keeping with the Venetian theme, giving notice that he is well equipped to take on these sort of heavier roles.
Further details of Wigmore Hall concerts can be found at wigmore-hall.org