Exquisite Singing at Carnegie Hall
AUFBAU 64:24 November 20, 1998 p. 13
[original title: Bryn Terfel at Carnegie Hall]
by [Helene Williams &] Leonard Lehrman
Copyright by Leonard Lehrman, Helene Williams & AUFBAU
The Welsh bass-baritone Bryn Terfel's website is in German, and he rolls his r's identically in every language, including English. But the sound of his voice is opulent, round and flexible, with nuance to spare in soft high notes, rough pesante, or when risking a straight tone to express sorrow. He doesn't have a real presence in his low notes, but this is just a quibble with what is a beautiful natural instrument that is well-produced and was an absolute pleasure to hear, sensitively accompanied by the English pianist Malcolm Martineau at a packed Carnegie Hall.
Having gained a reputation during his all of 33 years on earth for being a bit of a clown due to his reported "overacting" on a recital stage, in Brahms's Four Serious Songs he just stood still. Schubert's Trinklied, D. 888, though, found him comically listing at a 45-degree angle, holding on to the piano at arm's length.
In high forte passages, the acoustics of the hall scattered the sound, which was particularly appropriate for creating the atmosphere of wild revelry at the beginning of the Heine-Schumann Belsatzar, op. 57. The piece ended almost in a whisper, "leichenstill," with Terfel's diction easily reaching every extremity of the auditorium. Texts and translations were helpfully printed side-by-side in the program; however, there was a nasty page turn after the first of the Brahms songs, which proved to be noisy as the entire audience turned the page; trying to do it quietly interfered with the mood of the song. And strangely, for the Schubert "An Silvia," the German text of which is a version of the Shakespeare and not a direct translation, the program translated the German text, rather than providing the original (English) Shakespeare poem.
Four early 20th century English composers were represented masterfully: Michael Head, Hubert Parry, Roger Quilter, and especially George Butterworth, in six settings of (uncredited) A.E. Housman's "A Shropshire Lad," performed with gorgeous simplicity. There were four encores, in the course of which he announced that his wife had given birth to their first child only the night before, which had led him to omit one of the scheduled Faure songs, for fear of not being able to control his emotions.
[Sandra Goodman at St. Luke in the Fields The opposite problem could be heard in the recital of the very musical and ambitious lyric contralto "Sandra Goodman... and Friends" at the Church of St. Luke in the Fields. Through the program was inspiringly crafted, including the Brahms Viola Songs, a world premiere by Arnold Rosner, and rarely-heard settings and incidental music by Claude Debussy to erotic lesbian-tinged poetry by Pierre Louys, and the four instrumentalists were all beautifully supportive, the evening was lacking only in the emotional energy needed to give this wonderful music the kind of presentation it deserves.]
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