Opera + Classical Music Reviews

Scholl / Halperin @ Wigmore Hall, London

7 June 2011

Andreas Scholl (Photo: Eric Larray)

“If this isnt great, I dont know what is.”

I am sure that Kurt Vonnegut would not mind my slight altering of his rule about appreciating what’s good in life: this concert, its programme a kind of Sampler of what Andreas Scholl’s art is all about, gave as good a reason for thanks as any I can imagine.

Those of us lucky enough to have been present for his Glyndebourne debut in Rodelinda could surely never have foreseen that Scholl would turn out to be such a showman – the unique voice remains as captivating as ever, but with the years has come increasing confidence and the sense that he is ‘at home’ on the stage. The Wigmore Hall is of course ‘second home’ to all the greatest singers, and after a slightly constricted ‘Music for a while’ Scholl settled into giving his audience the kind of concert which is usually the stuff of dreams.

‘Sweeter than roses’ was not so much sung as dramatically lived, the phrase ‘made me freeze’ sending shivers down the spine, the effect spikily echoed by Tamar Halperin’s always supportive playing. The highlight of the following Dowland group was ‘Say, Love, if ever thou didst find’ with its ambiguous hint that the no-saying lady is Elizabeth 1st, who persisted in rejecting Dowland’s employment at her court. There was more light-hearted denial in Campions’ I care not for these ladies’, but even this was overshadowed by a peerless ‘Have you seen the bright lily grow?’ which was a couple of minutes of utter perfection, ‘O so sweet is she’ seeming to linger in the air long after the song had closed.

Purcell’s ‘Man is for the woman made’ provided a rousing finale to the first half; we were invited to join in (groan) for the refrain, our collective efforts described by Scholl as “very cultivated” – cue hilarity. Apparently, Sydney audiences are the most successful here, but after suitable encouragement from the stage we Wigmore denizens managed a respectably lusty bar-thumping sound. Needless to say I spent much of the interval checking the rest of the programme so as to ensure that there were no further opportunities for such participation – I was fairly comforted, although I had my qualms about one of the Brahms folksongs.

Fortunately, the second half proved far more staid, with beautifully judged Haydn canzonettas and a trio of traditional folksongs arranged by the accompanist; I found them too fussy, although very finely sung and played. The Brahms folksongs were revelatory, especially ‘All’ mein Gedanken’ which found here an interpretation as fresh as if it had not been sung thousands of times, and ‘Da unten im Tale’ which was given with poetic grace and restrained fervour. If you’re used to Schwarzkopf’s more mannered – though equally wonderful – performance, complete with closing sob, you would find that Scholl’s singing here gives the piece a whole new perspective.

The single encore was Brahms’ ‘In stiller Nacht’, in a delicately poised, restrained performance which, like the rest of the evening, provided yet another perfect evocation of ‘the Art of the Countertenor’, which is the title of the series of concerts of which this was a sublime part.

Further details of Wigmore Hall concerts can be found at wigmore-hall.org

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