This afternoon concert was the London-based Australian baritone’s debut solo recital, in which he was accompanied with sophisticated skill by Simon Lepper. Morgan Pearse has an exceptionally wide vocal range, sounding comfortable at the top of the stave and yet possessing sonorous low notes; he is personable, self-confident, handsome and impeccably dressed – his stage manner is as polished as that of his accompanist, although his singing has a little way to go to equal the finesse of Lepper’s playing.
Pearse chose a demanding programme, beginning with a selection of Brahms which displayed both his considerable strengths and his tendency to want to soar up to those open phrases with all the power at his disposal – the final line of ‘Von ewiger Liebe’ made the flower arrangements shake. That same power is often used to stunning effect, as in the dramatic lines of ‘Wie rafft ich mich auf in der Nacht’ and is capable of being tempered with unexpected sweetness. ‘Die Mainacht’ lacked nothing in ardour, ‘Wann, o lächelndes Bild’ displaying his ability to shape a phrase without exaggeration. Lepper partnered him with genuinely collaborative skill, the lyrical nachspiel of ‘Wir wandelten’ a perfect example of the accompanist’s art.
Richard Strauss’ Op. 27 is the ideal work for this commanding voice, the sense of nothing-held-back emotion so necessary in songs like ‘Cäcilie’ abundantly present, and the fervent plea at the end of ‘Heimliche Aufforderung’ delivered with just the right sense of abandon. ‘Morgen’ is a test of a singer’s ability to refine the voice to a slender thread – quite a challenge for this one – but he passed it nobly, with some elegant phrasing, assisted by the delicacy and nuance of Lepper’s playing.
Four songs by Samuel Barber closed the programme, with the setting of James Joyce’s ‘Solitary hotel’ the most rounded performance, displaying Pearse’s dramatic skill and convincing delivery. Vaughan Williams’ ‘Bright is the ring of Words’ made for a graceful and appropriate encore. This young baritone has already established himself on the operatic stage, and this recital was an impressive solo debut in this most demanding and auspicious of venues.