A one-composer evening featuring some of Schubert’s most melancholy, sombre works might not seem the ideal way to spend a dreary Sunday evening, but this recital by the personable Turkish/Austrian tenor Ilker Arcayürek succeeded in presenting an almost entirely serious programme without making us want to jump off the nearest bridge. It’s quite an achievement to hold an audience’s attention over 21 songs (plus two encores) when those songs are mostly concerned with loneliness, lost love and longing – but then some of us might say it’s refreshing to hear a young artist build a programme with so little reliance on ‘light relief.’
‘Frühlingsglaube’ is often sung at the end of a programme or as an encore, but here it seemed ideally positioned as the introduction to an evening of songs expressing Schubert’s characteristic blend of exquisite hesitancy and fervent longing. Arcayürek’s voice is bright in tone, agile and used with musicality, all features ideal for this repertoire, and if he tended to stray a little into the head voice at certain phrases in this opening song, he soon settled into a more even style. ‘Lied eines Schiffers an die Dioskuren’ must be one of the most beloved of Schubert’s Mayrhofer settings, and here both singer and pianist gave it the right solemnity, if at times just missing that essential sense of devotion.
‘Am Flusse’ might seem to be a slight piece, but this setting of Goethe’s direct, simple lyric poem can go straight to the heart in the right performance, and here Simon Lepper’s delicately rippling piano and the tenor’s finely judged phrasing did just that. ‘Der Doppelgänger,’ unusually performed here outside of ‘Schwanengesang’ had plenty of drama. ‘An den Mond,’ the Holty poem so exquisitely set by Schubert allowed Arcayürek to reveal a more tender aspect to his singing, and the first half of the concert closed with another much-loved Mayrhofer setting, ‘Nachtstück,’ given an appropriately rapt performance.
‘Der Musensohn’ has been described as one of Schubert’s most difficult songs, so it was fitting that this one was the highlight of the evening. Arcayürek has obviously learnt a great deal from Peter Schreier (William Lyne described Schreier’s performance of it, accompanied by András Schiff, as the finest he had ever heard) and Ilker’s joyful evocation of young love and longing was superbly teamed with Lepper’s insouciantly elegant playing.
The Gesänge des Harfners were fluently sung and played, although the tenor’s interpretation seemed to be more of a work in progress than his other selections. ‘Wandrers Nachtlied’ was the first of two finely articulated encores, allowing Arcayürek to display his smooth legato, and the concert closed with an ambitious ‘Nacht und Traüme’ which both singer and pianist made seem easy to perform.
Ilker Arcayürek has gone from strength to strength since his finals place in the 2015 Cardiff Singer of the World, and it’s safe to assume that his fresh, lyrical voice and winning stage manner will be frequently heard in London.