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S & H Concert Review

Campion, Dowland, Danyel, Johnson: Songs and Lute Solos. Traditional Folk Songs. Andreas Scholl, Karl–Ernst Schroeder, Wigmore Hall, Sunday January 5th 2003 (ME)

This was the first concert of the year for me, and what a way to begin it, with a wonderful recital which was a repeat of Andreas Scholl’s debut performance at the Wigmore Hall, with a few additional songs, confirming once again that this is one of the truly great voices of our time. There were signs that Scholl was fighting off a cold in that he occasionally cleared his throat and experienced a couple of rough patches in the lower registers, but this was still an absolutely entrancing recital which offered challenges of virtually every vocal and interpretative kind.

The first group was distinguished by a highly dramatic reading of Dowland’s ‘In darkness let me dwell’ in which Scholl went about as far as you can go in the vivid depiction of words: his rich, forward tone and incisive projection are made for this music, and his interpretation of the song was worlds away from the more frequently heard lugubrious monotony. ‘Waly,waly’ is so well known that it must be difficult for a singer to make his own, but Scholl succeeded in doing so through his subtly varied expression and superb use of pauses, notably in the final stanza. The first half concluded with as fine a rendition of Robert Johnson’s ‘Have you seen the bright lily grow’ as I have heard, with Scholl’s mesmerizing phrasing giving powerful emphasis to the exquisite words, especially at ‘Oh, so white, oh, so soft, oh, so sweet is she!’ which achieved the perfect sense of muted eroticism.

Scholl is unusual amongst singers of this repertoire in that he actually understands that these songs were not written to be dreamily burbled: he is often compared to James Bowman in his forcefulness and lack of tweeness, but to me his closest equal is the tenor Nigel Rogers, who used to give very similar emphasis to the more direct aspects of this music, and who of course was Scholl’s equivalent in terms of virtuosity if not beauty of timbre. The second half of the recital provided plenty of examples of this countertenor’s forthright style, most notably in his amusing repetitions of ‘Forsooth, let go!’ in ‘I care not for these ladies’ and his positively lubricious phrasing in ‘Beauty, since you so much desire.’

The folk song repertoire is something which Scholl has made as much his hallmark as the music of Dowland and Campion, and he gave us finely detailed, lovingly interpreted performances of some potentially dreary music, here brought to vivid, palpitating life by his wonderful understanding of the nuance of the words and his lucent, almost at times febrile timbre. ‘The three ravens’ is a grim tale of the aftermath of battle, made poignant by the closing stanza’s reflection about the slain knight’s lady – ‘God send every gentleman / Such hawks, such hounds, and such a leman,’ and Scholl sang it with the ideal blend of malevolence and sincerity. ‘Lord Rendall’ is the kind of piece which can easily encourage the attention to wander, but this would have been impossible here, given the intensity, brightness of contrast and sheer narrative grasp of the interpretation.

Scholl’s collaboration with the lutenist Karl-Ernst Schroeder is one of those partnerships made in heaven: Schroeder balances the singer everywhere, provides calm, exactly judged accompaniment and plays with the same kind of eloquent, elegant virtuosity which distinguishes his partner. On this occasion he played three exquisitely appropriate solos, by John Danyel, Robert Johnson and John Dowland, with the last’s ‘Pavana’ providing an object lesson in instrumental skill.

A positively ecstatic audience was rewarded with a single, superb encore, Schroeder’s musical, sympathetic adaptation of Handel’s ‘Verdi prati’ (from ‘Alcina’) sung with Scholl’s now customary beauty of tone, elegance of phrasing and sense of understated virtuosity. The concert is being repeated on Tuesday, and some of us are tempted to go again…


Melanie Eskenazi

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