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Seen and Heard Recital Review


Handel, Haydn, Mozart:
Andreas Scholl (counter-tenor) Markus Markl (harpsichord, fortepiano) ‘Song on the South Bank’ series, Queen Elizabeth Hall, Sunday 11.6. 2006 (M E)

The ‘Song on the South Bank’ series seems to be developing into a platform for intriguingly different recitals – first Matthias Goerne singing Schumann and Wagner cycles usually sung by a woman, and now Andreas Scholl offering a fascinating programme in which he and his brilliantly virtuosic accompanist Markus Markl traced the development of the solo cantata from Handel via Haydn to Mozart. The hall was, of course, packed – Scholl’s winning of the ‘Classical Brit Singer of the Year’ award for his CD Arias for Senesino may have introduced this voice, unquestionably one of the great half dozen or so of our time, to a wider public, but his name has always guaranteed a sell-out, and this evening provided ample evidence as to why.

Vendendo amor tells the classic tale of the secular cantata, in which the youth is unwittingly snared by Love: Scholl presented his characterization of the speaker as though he were on the operatic stage, with all the drama coming from his voice and intensely expressive gestures. From the deceptively idyllic setting’s mellifluous description of the ‘bosco ombroso’ on such a ‘notte fredda e scura’ (a shady wood, on a cool and dark night) through the vivid depiction of the moment when Love struck and the sudden outcry of ‘io canto per amor, ma più per rabbia’ (I sing for love, but more for rage!) this was performance art of the very highest order. The Chaconne in G which followed it showed Markl as an equally impressive interpreter, especially in the almost frighteningly difficult final variations.

Lungi da me, pensieri tiranno follows the conventional pattern of three contrasting arias evoking the lover’s changing moods, from minor key anxiety through despair and finally an ecstatic minuet: no one could have asked for finer singing throughout, but in the wonderful ‘Clori amato, adorato mio nume!’ Scholl touched heights of lyric grace which left the audience awed in admiration despite the boiler-room heat in the hall.

Whilst the first half might be described as conventional, the recital’s second part took us into different territory with Haydn’s settings of some of Anne Hunter’s melancholy poems. It’s not completely absurd to think of these as the precursors of ‘Winterreise’ in their elemental sadness, although on this occasion they received a far less ‘Lieder-ish’ performance than they are usually given. Scholl and Markl see them as dramatic cantatas in a direct line from Handel as well as the precursors of Mozart and Schubert, and it was fascinating to hear a song like ‘Despair’ given so dramatic a performance.

Mozart’s D minor Fantasia followed, in an astonishing display of fortepiano playing: the ruminative Andante, the tempestuous Adagio and most of all the brilliant Allegretto were given with breathtaking skill and an air of such ease in execution that you wanted to stand up and cheer. The final works provided more chances for Scholl to display his extraordinary blend of tonal beauty, incredible virtuosity and poetic interpretation; Ah! Spiegarti, oh Dio is infrequently performed, with good reason, since this little aria positively bristles with C sharps – Scholl met its challenges with aplomb, characteristically daring little variations even at the most taxing moments.

Finally, a truly revolutionary version of ‘Abendempfindung’ - I must have heard this song a hundred times, usually sung as a charmingly reflective little ditty, but here it was something else altogether: a full-blown dramatic monologue, bringing to mind some of Schubert’s most profound works on the theme of death, and sung with a complete absence of preciousness. It will never sound the same again. After this, only the perfection of ‘Verdi Prati’ would do as an encore, and so it was – and like the Mozart, it was sung with the kind of directness and understated virtuosity which are the hallmarks of this great singer’s art.

Melanie Eskenazi



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Contributors: Marc Bridle (North American Editor), Martin Anderson, Patrick Burnson, Frank Cadenhead, Colin Clarke, Paul Conway, Geoff Diggines, Sarah Dunlop, Evan Dickerson Melanie Eskenazi (London Editor) Robert J Farr, Abigail Frymann, Göran Forsling, Simon Hewitt-Jones, Bruce Hodges,Tim Hodgkinson, Martin Hoyle, Bernard Jacobson, Tristan Jakob-Hoff, Ben Killeen, Bill Kenny (Regional Editor), Ian Lace, Jean Martin, John Leeman, Neil McGowan, Bettina Mara, Robin Mitchell-Boyask, Simon Morgan, Aline Nassif, Anne Ozorio, Ian Pace, John Phillips, Jim Pritchard, John Quinn, Peter Quantrill, Alex Russell, Paul Serotsky, Harvey Steiman, Christopher Thomas, John Warnaby, Hans-Theodor Wolhfahrt, Peter Grahame Woolf (Founder & Emeritus Editor)