tue 18/06/2024

Verbier remembers Anthony Rolfe Johnson | reviews, news & interviews

Verbier remembers Anthony Rolfe Johnson

Verbier remembers Anthony Rolfe Johnson

England's golden tenor remembered in Swiss mountain festival

Born to play the king: Rolfe Johnson's definitive Idomeneo with John Eliot Gardiner

Somehow I hadn't expected the death three days ago of the great British tenor, though unquestionably a world-class artist, to be commemorated among the international set of the Verbier Festival. Yet last night, before he raised his baton to conduct the Verbier Festival Chamber Orchestra, conductor Marc Minkowski had a few words to say about Anthony Rolfe Johnson.

His mezzo-soprano, the glorious Anne Sofie von Otter, especially wanted to dedicate her performance to a dearly loved friend and colleague.

Of course - I'd completely forgotten that over 20 years ago, tenor and mezzo collaborated in John Eliot Gardiner's pioneering Queen Elizabeth Hall concert performances of Mozart's Idomeneo and La Clemenza di Tito, subsequently recorded and arguably still unsurpassed on CD. Rolfe Johnson's "Fuor del mar", the big florid solo for Mozart's stricken king in Act Two of Idomeneo, was a high watermark of his career and, again, has no equal.

Even Philip Langridge, who also died earlier this year, couldn't match him in that, though the two tenors were very different kinds of stage and recital animals - Langridge bursting with nervous tension, Rolfe Johnson (in later years at least) the more beautiful voice of the two. Both were superb exponents of the Britten roles and song-cycles (Rolfe Johnson's Hyperion recording of the Michelangelo Sonnets is the most ravishing ever recorded). And they both surpassed the English cathedral tenor syndrome in a way that recent claimants to the throne have not.

Von Otter and Rolfe Johnson  worked together many times, not least on another great recording, Monteverdi's Orfeo, and as Debussy's Pelléas and Mélisande. So it was appropriate that Fauré's incidental music to the Maeterlinck play began yesterday evening's concert in Verbier's new Salle des Combins. Its elegiac tone proved just perfect, and Von Otter's contribution even more so, a touching ballad sung in English (since it was for a London theatre that Fauré composed his score).

Here's Rolfe Johnson's ineffably moving performance of an Apollinaire war poem as set by Poulenc


Superb - and fitting - tribute. Deserves a slot in TAD's main pages.

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