Andreas Scholl, Wigmore Hall | Classical music reviews, news & interviews
Andreas Scholl, Wigmore Hall
Countertenor trades in baroque for an evening of lieder
It’s something of a fashion at the moment for countertenors to break out of the baroque, to have a bit of a fling with classical and even romantic repertoire. David Daniels has experimented with Berlioz, Philippe Jaroussky has flirted as only a Frenchman can with the mélodies of Massenet and Hahn, and now Andreas Scholl is embracing his native lieder. A concert last night at the Wigmore Hall took his latest disc on the road, stripping the singer of the safety of the recording studio and letting his audience judge his latest, and in some ways most ambitious, programme for themselves.
The conventional conclusion on such innovation goes something along the lines of Cold Comfort Farm’s “Tes flying in the face of nature!” Countertenors are to mezzos and baritones as harpsichords are to pianos; why would you opt for a one-tone, nuance-free sound with limited range when you could have a glorious expanse of Steinway (complete with sustaining pedal) instead? It’s a reasonable argument up to a point, but like most issues of tradition isn’t always sustained by the most reasonable people. While unshakeable absolutes and ideological battle-lines might be more sexy, the fact is that it all rather depends on the particular singer and the repertoire in question.
Scholl invested the endless arabesque of its melody with practised grace and legato
For all his signature purity at the top of his range, Scholl has developed a surprising amount of warmth (if not heft) through the lower registers, and certainly more than enough colour for the delicate miniatures by Schubert, Mozart, Haydn and Brahms that he has chosen. It’s not as if he’s attempting the Rückert-Lieder or even Winterreise.
The biggest work of the evening was Schubert’s Der Jüngling auf dem Hügel – a compressed epic if ever there was one. Mercurial in mood, the song led Scholl (and a less willing Tamar Halperin, pictured below, at the piano) from lyric pastoral contemplation to abject despair. Scholl’s narrative here was beautifully judged, shading each episode with care and tonal specificity. Though doubtless better in the intimacy of the recording studio, Halperin’s accompaniments and solo numbers were fragile to the point of timidity. It worked surprisingly well for Mozart’s flighty Rondo in F and Schubert’s throwaway Waltz in B minor, but Brahms’ Intermezzo in A needed more than she was willing to give.
While in London Haydn apparently made the acquaintance of widowed poetess and salonista Anne Hunter. She is now best remembered for the composer’s settings of her poems, which sadly not even Scholl’s musicality can make bearable. It’s all a bit Victorian parlour, and this preciousness, this stiffness, is if anything compounded by a countertenor voice.
Brahms’s Deutsche Volkslieder could easily go the same way, but are saved by the elegant interplay of folk melody and art-song accompaniment. Opening up and discovering increasing clarity and resonance as the evening progressed, Scholl found a freedom here that his more mannered Mozart songs lacked (although the dialogue of Das Veilchen all but demands such treatment). Dialogue found itself dramatised even more keenly in Schubert’s Der Tod und das Mädchen where Scholl’s rather beautiful baritone got an airing as the voice of Death to his countertenor Maiden. This register-shifting is a familiar party-piece in the singer’s repertoire, but no less effective for that.
The apparent simplicity of Schubert’s Du bist die Ruh is a mire that has engulfed many a singer, but Scholl invested the endless arabesque of its melody with practised grace and legato. Listening to this still, almost vibrato-less, serenade – the emotional and technical climax of the evening – it was impossible to ignore the realisation that this expert display was the closest the recital came to Scholl’s home turf and the long lines of Handel or Buxtehude arias. Countertenors can certainly do lieder; if they sing like Scholl they can do them well. But nine evenings out of 10 I’d still much rather hear them singing Bach.
Subscribe to theartsdesk.com
Thank you for continuing to read our work on theartsdesk.com. For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 7,000 pieces, we're asking for £2.95 per month or £25 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.
To take an annual subscription now simply click here.
And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a theartsdesk.com gift subscription?
more Classical music
Romantic symphonies from Austria and the Czech Republic, and contemporary concerti from South Korea
Exceptional control and finesse allow Brahms’s masterpieces to shine supreme
Whole string sections with the ability to phrase cleverly and subtly as one
An overly impulsive Dvořák, and a disappointing Beethoven from distinguished visitors
Well-known tunes from influential Americans and a German romantic in cerebral mood
Finely focused reading rings true and powerful
Heartfelt Schumann outplays heavyweight Strauss and lunatic Grainger
Subtle touches but too little passionate abandon in this fine team's lopsided programme
Cannonades all round as Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture follows Rachmaninov and Stravinsky
Music trumps politics in youthful, even joyous Shostakovich 'Leningrad' Symphony
A second album for Berlin Phil musician will expand the repertoire downwards
Mozart and Mahler at a festival that's about so much more than just star-power