Opera + Classical Music Reviews

Christopher Maltman @ Wigmore Hall, London

27 January 2008

Christopher Maltman has more than fulfilled the promise he showed when he won the Cardiff Singer of the World Lieder Prize in 1997.

He has become one of the most sought-after singers before the public today both on the concert platform and in the opera house.

And with singing of this calibre, it’s easy to see why he is, without doubt, the most prodigiously gifted baritone of his generation.

This recital was given as part of the French Season of Poulenc Songs, and those lovers of the French 20th century composer would have been in their element. I have to confess that up until now he’d never featured particularly strongly on my musical radar, but Maltman’s delivery of the opening five songs made me challenge my prejudices.

Not only does Maltman have a wonderful platform manner but he manages to colour his voice in such a way that each song is delivered with contrasting feeling, shading and tone. Memorable in the first set of songs was Rosemonde (about a rather sordid dalliance in Amsterdam) – where Maltman spun some exquisitely long legato lines and despite the fact that his voice is voluminous in full flood, underpinned the melancholy of the song with wonderful restraint.

The filigree lightness of the Poulenc was thrown into sharp relief by Britten’s Songs and Proverbs of William Blake. Here was music of such bleak intensity and dramatic vitality that Maltman performed the songs as if possessed. Britten’s music has been the cornerstone of Maltman’s career, and his affinity with it was noticeable in every bar. He darkened his tone perceptibly, and the way he brought Tyger! Tyger! Burning bright to vivid life was testament to a singer possessed of an innate musicality.

After the interval Maltman gave a knowledgeable and insightful introduction to Shostakovich’s Four Poems of Captain Lebyadkin. These songs were typical of the sardonic, tongue in cheek style that is present in all of the Russian composer’s output and here Maltman was in his element. Despite the fact that this was only the second time he’d performed these songs, their challenging dramatic range was well within his grasp, and he sang with a priapic swagger where necessary and was appropriately down-at-heel with the black humour when needed.

This wonderful recital concluded with Poulenc’s Chansons gaillardes – a bawdy take on 17th century poems, which Maltman delivered with panache, displaying his sexy baritone voice to full effect and by the end had the audience eating out of the palm of his hand. Malcolm Martineau’s accompaniment throughout was exemplary, resulting in a recital that will live long in the memory.

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