Countertenors have always explored repertoire beyond the baroque, although to hear some critics you’d think that the likes of Daniels and Jaroussky were the first to dip a toe into the risky waters of folk song and Lieder. At the Wigmore Hall last night, Andreas Scholl and Tamar Halperin presented a programme based on their new recording, which explores German Romantic Song. As with the CD, once you had attuned your ear to this voice alongside a Steinway rather than a harpsichord or a lute, it was possible to savour Scholl’s unique eloquence, matchless legato and sense of the meaning of a phrase.
Haydn’s ‘ ‘Three English Canzonettas’ are settings of poems by Anne Hunter, described by Scholl as “extremely touching” as indeed they are — vignettes of sorrow and longing of which the third, ‘Recollection’ is the most vivid — it was performed so persuasively that you questioned why more singers don’t give it a try.
The Schubert group which followed was the evening’s highlight, ‘Abendstern’ sung with fervour, ‘Ich bin der Liebe treuer Stern’ a hushed confidence. ‘Du bist die Ruh,’ always a challenge, produced the evening’s most graceful, technically accomplished singing, with a perfect diminuendo at the second ‘erhellt.’ ‘Der Tod und das Mädchen’ reminded us of Scholl’s talent for vocal drama, the girl’s voice taken in his accustomed register and that of Death in his natural light baritone.
Even Mozart and Brahms seemed slight after that, although Scholl had managed to find profundity in three of the Deutsche Volkslieder — without over-emphasizing their Lieder qualities, he lent depth to ‘All’ mein Gedanken’ and ‘Da unten im Tale’, which can so often be the victim of affectation, was the perfect example of this singer’s art — technical mastery made to seem easy, sensitivity of phrasing and of course that uniquely piercing yet mellow timbre.
Tamar Halperin is not everyone’s ideal pianist; she’s a touch too cerebral for some, and a little wayward on occasion, yet she’s also the ideal foil to Scholl’s more consciously romantic approach, and theirs is a partnership to be relished.
Further details of Wigmore Hall concerts can be found at wigmore-hall.org