Another decade, another gala… this time, his 80th, and the Wigmore Hall’s great champion was again honoured by a choice group of singers and pianists, in repertoire either chosen by him or dear to his heart. Both halves of the concert began with Fauré played by the outstanding young pianist Alasdair Beatson, and there could be no better symbol of William Lyne’s philosophy — youth, technique and “artistry in abundance.” Beatson was followed by another artist adopted early on in his career during Lyne’s Wigmore tenure, Christopher Maltman, whose Lieder singing has now amply repaid the confidence shown in him. ‘Sei mir gegrüsst’ would probably be high on most people’s ‘least loved Schubert song’ list, yet here it sounded fresh and inviting, as opposed to the near-dirge it can become. ‘Das Zügenglöcklein’ in contrast is much loved, and Maltman sang it with touching grace.
John Mark Ainsley, another Wigmore regular who seems to be virtually living in the hall at the moment, gave a performance of ‘Die Taubenpost’ which epitomized all that we mean when we say “Schubert” — that is, charm touched with melancholy. He was joined by Dame Felicity Lott for ‘Licht und Liebe,’ the bloom on her voice now fragile but the technical skill undimmed. The concert’s first half closed with Wagner’s Wesendonck Lieder, sung with powerful commitment by Christine Brewer; if she does not quite make your hair stand on end at ‘von Engeln sagen’ and ‘ein stolzer Siegesheld!’ she still commands enough of her Isolde temperament and phrasing to remind you why she is one of the Wigmore’s most welcome visitors.
The highlights of a mixed bag of a second half were Ainsley’s poetic singing of the Vaughan Williams setting of ‘Orpheus with his lute’ and his almost devout interpretation of Hahn’s ‘A Chloris,’ Dame Felicity’s eloquent, exquisitely idiomatic French style in Fauré’s ‘Les roses d’Ispahan’ and Maltman’s surprise inclusion of Bolcom’s ‘Black Max,’ which he sang superbly. I was not too enthralled with the Bolcom premiere which ended the show proper, a special commission called ‘From the Jersey Side,’ which sets Arnold Weinstein’s quixotic poem of across-the-turnpike resentment to jangling, restless music. Christine Brewer gave it everything she had — which is a great deal — and as if that were not enough she came back with the wonderful ‘Lime jello, marshmallow, cottage cheese surprise’ which is not an hymn to gluttony but an hilarious memory of Bolcom’s experiences as a pianist entertaining at various ‘homely’ events, and the gruesome culinary inventions with which he was regaled.
It was the great accompanist Gerald Moore who referred to the Wigmore as his “spiritual home,” and if his shade was in attendance last night he would have delighted in what he heard from Roger Vignoles and Malcolm Martineau, moving between composers as varied as Schubert and Bolcom with insouciant skill and supporting the singers with wit and sympathy. The hall is thriving under John Gilhooly, and it must be very gratifying for William Lyne to see the constantly packed houses for the unassuming yet life-enhancing art which it enshrines.
Further details of Wigmore Hall concerts can be found at wigmore-hall.org