Andreas Scholl has explored folk songs in just about every form, including complete with swooning strings, but of late he has dwelt increasingly on the direct, emotionally immediate world of the simplest settings of vernacular music. These songs are as ideal for his voice as the Renaissance works in which he is equally sublime, and it’s clear that Tamar Halperin is not ‘just’ a recital partner, and not ‘just’ his wife, but a musical ‘Seelenfreund’ whose collaboration has guided the singer towards new insights .
Scholl was not in his best voice, a pesky frog in the throat surfacing at times, so it was even more than usually daring of him to begin the recital with an early 21st century lament, sung partly in his natural baritone register. Written by J. K. Mackenzie in memory of his grandfather, who died in WWI, the sonorous, noble melody is intoned over a bagpipe-like drone from the piano, making a sombre and startling introduction to the recital. Chava Alberstein’s ‘Ikh shtey unter a Bokserboym’ (‘I stand under a carob tree’) was probably the first experience for many, of this remarkable Israeli folksinger-songwriter, and Scholl sang the melancholy lines with fervent conviction. Alberstein’s music might perhaps be characterized as a folk song parallel to the music of Hanns Eisler, and her extensive recordings are worth investigating.
In complete contrast, the traditional ‘King Henry’ allowed Scholl to display his most individual characteristic, the ability to silence a room with singing of such directness and intimacy that phrases seem to hang on the air long after they have been uttered. That same directness was evident in the group of Britten settings; aching with homesickness, and with the composer’s unmatched harmony of words and music, these songs can seldom have been played or sung with such sympathy and understanding. If there’s a better Britten pianist around today than Halperin, I have yet to hear them.
Three of the best-known folksongs in the repertoire, Brahms’ ‘All’ mein Gedanken,’ Da unten im Tale’ and ‘In stiller Nacht’ concluded the concert, each given highly individual performances; the first was short on sentimentality but replete with feeling, the second took a fondly accepting rather than regretful view of the lovers’ parting, and the third united voice and piano in bittersweet reflection. The single encore framed a recital which had begun with a 21st century song, with another modern setting, this time by Idan Reichel, whose setting of ‘In stiller Nacht’ reminded us that folk song still merits the title of a living art.
You can hear the concert again on BBC Radio 3 at 1pm on Sunday November 23rd.
Further details of Wigmore Hall concerts can be found at wigmore-hall.org.uk.