Andreas Scholl began his recital with John Dowland’s Behold a wonder here, an appropriate sentiment for this performance of music of such quiet power, performed with Scholl’s characteristic mastery. He was in much better voice than at his previous London recital of some of these songs, and together with Edin Karamazov he presented an evening rich in interpretative insights and simply beautiful singing.
Dowland modestly said of himself that his “poore labours” had found favour “in the greatest part of Europe,” and songs such as Come again, sweet love doth now invite bear testament to his skill in creating music for voice and lute which allows the individuals singing and playing the songs so much freedom to make each performance a new experience. On this occasion, Scholl adopted more of the stance of the desperately pleading lover than ‘last time around,’ every vocal inflexion and each gesture directed towards persuading the beloved of his ‘deadly pain and endless misery.’ The fourth stanza began with voice alone, plaintively evoking the lover’s sleepless nights, then the lute took over the solo phrases, seeming to express what no words possibly could. The effect was magical.
Both Scholl and Karamazov are masters of musical language, able to focus on specific words or phrases without over-emphasizing them, and this was wonderfully shown in the closing held notes of I saw my lady weep and In darkness let me dwell. The weaving, darting notes of the lute in Can she excuse my wrongs provided superbly evocative partners to the frustrations expressed in the words.
Handel’s Nel dolce tempo is one of around eighty cantatas for voice and continuo, mostly far less well known and certainly less frequently performed than most of his other works; it’s a beautiful virtuoso piece, telling the story of a young man’s rapturous encounter with a ‘Shepherdess’ and it naturally allowed Scholl to display all the qualities for which he is renowned – stunning breath control, exceptional fluency and flexibility in phrasing, and the kind of sensitivity to language which only the greatest possess.
This was followed by Karamazov’s own adaptations for the lute, of movements from Bach’s ‘cello suites, in a virtuosic performance which, if it did not quite convince you to choose the lute over the ‘cello, made you hear the former instrument in a quite different way. There was more Bach at encore time, in a peerless performance of Jesus bleibet meine Freude which was followed by Robert Johnson’s Have you seen the bright lily grow – perhaps the perfect Tudor song, here sung with absolute lyric grace.
Before these we heard a selection of folksongs in settings by the Cuban guitarist and composer Leo Brouwer, offering different readings of such well loved pieces as Down by the Salley Gardens and O Waly Waly. They were superbly sung and played, although it was difficult to move away from the feeling that Benjamin Britten really has said the last word on settings of this material.