Friday night’s Emerging Talent recital at The Wigmore Hall featured the American tenor Paul Appleby accompanied by Malcolm Martineau. The first half consisted of Franz Paul Lachner’s Das Fischermädchen, followed by Schumann’s Op. 24 Liederkreis, and finally settings of four of Eichendorff’s poems by Hugo Wolf. Appleby’s voice is perhaps best classed as spinto, but he tackled the lighter mid-19th-century German repertoire with a pleasing mix of drama and delicacy – from the gentle touch required for Ich wandelte unter den Bäumen to the distracted agitation of Es treibt mich hin (although the final consonants in very dramatic songs such as Warte, warte were perhaps occasionally a little over-enthusiastic for a space such as the Wigmore). Malcolm Martineau also gave a finesse to Schumann’s charming piano writing, in particular the nachspielen.
The more chromatic Wolf songs received excellent performances, Appleby bringing off well the breathless farewell of Seemanns Abschied and the restrained tenderness of Heimweh. However, the first half of the concert felt slightly unbalanced. Neither performer was obviously over-loud, but somehow, it felt more like a competition than a voice being accompanied. A purist musical historian might have suggested that the solution would have been to have used a piano more in tune with the period; the Wigmore’s full-size concert grand is an excellent instrument, but the softer tone of, say, an older, 19th-century piano might have worked better with the repertoire.
The second half was an altogether different proposition, with both artists creating a series of perfectly judged and different sound worlds, engendering nothing but delight at the interplay between them. They began with a quartet of songs by the often-overlooked English composer, Frank Bridge. The earliest of these, Go not, happy day conjured up a sunshine-imbued pre-war idyll, and this gentle pastoral was continued in the 1920s songs Goldenhair and When you are old and grey. The set finished with a bravura performance of the classic audition piece of cheeky tenors everywhere, Love went a-riding:cheeky, in that the long soaring lyric tenor lines are relatively simple compared to the fiendishly challenging galloping piano part.
Three songs from Berlioz’ 1840 Les nuits d’été followed, with Appleby bestowing on Villanelle a blowsy, rounded performance, followed by some beautifully restrained mezza voce work in Au cimetière, and a rollicking delivery of Baltique, Pacifique and Java in L’île inconnue.
Songs by the Brazilian composer Heitor Villa-Lobos are not often performed – mostly he is famous for his instrumental suites Bachianas Brasileiras – so it was a rare delight to hear three of them. The first two, Canção do poeta do século and Evocação were night-time songs, which Appleby and Martineau imbued with a sultry heat, as if sung in a dusty square to a quietly plucked guitar – Evocação, particularly, with its slow, sad waltz-time, was a perfect vehicle for Appleby to drop the fine edge of his voice and demonstrate a vulnerable vocal quality. The set finished with the furiously fast Samba clássico (with words by the composer), a gutsy celebration of Brazil itself.
Further details of Wigmore Hall concerts can be found at wigmore-hall.org.uk.