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Seen and Heard Recital Review

 

Handel, Haydn, Mozart: Cantatas, Songs and Keyboard Pieces – Andreas Scholl, Markus Märkl, Wigmore Hall, 16th October 2004 (ME)

 

This concert was far more deserving of the title ‘Festival’ than last week’s official opener, featuring as it did a genuinely great singer at the height of his powers and a harpsichordist of whom the word ‘virtuoso’ can be used without exaggeration or embarrassment. There was, however, plenty of the latter to be had early on, when the artists marched onstage before the staff had managed to remove the huge ‘no mobiles’ placard, followed by a piercing blast of electronic sound from an unknown source, and then a bit of a false start in the performance. No matter: it all settled down, and despite Scholl’s obvious cold and Märkl’s sniffles, we were treated to a superbly crafted programme full of dazzling singing and playing, ecstatically received by a genuine capacity audience.

 

The structure of this programme was clearly designed to take us on a journey through the development of vocal music from the Handel Cantata to the Mozart Lied, with two instrumental pieces for ‘light relief.’ Scholl is one of the rare band of singers who can take you into the world of a song straight away, and ‘Nel dolce tempo’ was a perfect example of this: the voice is of course supremely beautiful even with a cold, but here it was the dramatic ‘dialogue’ which chiefly impressed, and the wonderful suspensions at moments like ‘Senti’ made this fragile tale all the more engrossing – the Pastoral is the most rigid of conventions, yet Handel’s music gives it such life and colour that you can’t help but become involved. The all – Handel first part was full of delights such as the wonderful final part of ‘Lungi da me, pensier Tiranno’ where Scholl sang the line ‘Clori amata, adorato mio Nume!’ with utterly persuasive skill, and the Chaconne in G which Märkl played the twenty one variations with insouciant virtuosity.

 

After the interval we were treated to a group of Haydn songs, settings of poems by Anne Hunter, the wife of the famous surgeon John Hunter at whose London house the composer was a frequent visitor: the poems are slight enough, being mostly lyrical treatments of the kind of themes which Young explored in his ‘Night Thoughts,’ but the music is something else, in its sparseness and melancholy prefiguring the Romantic composers of the Lied, its fortepiano accompaniments anticipating theirs. The superb ‘Recollection,’ in particular, brought to mind Beethoven’s ‘Resignation,’ and Scholl sang it brilliantly.

 

Mozart’s Fantasia no 3 in D minor gave Märkl another chance to display his virtuosity, this time on the fortepiano, and even if it was not quite so startling a performance as he had given on the harpsichord, the mournful adagio was beautifully phrased and minutely articulated. The two Mozart songs which followed it were finely chosen to remind us of the composer’s place in the history of Art Song, and it was most revealing to hear ‘Abendempfindung’ sung by this particular kind of voice, which had the effect of making it more like an aria than a lied.

 

The audience’s ecstatic reception was rewarded with three sublime encores, the finest one being ‘Verdi Prati’ which was sung with all those qualities which distinguish Scholl’s art: understated virtuosity, luminous beauty of tone, liquid phrasing and absolute identification with the sentiments being expressed. I could not help recalling the last time I heard him sing here, partnered on that occasion by the great lutenist Karl-Ernst Schröder, whose sudden and untimely death this year deprived us of one of the finest musicians of our time: Markus Märkl’s playing and of course Scholl’s singing were a fitting tribute to his memory.

 

Melanie Eskenazi



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