Much of how one reacts to a lieder singer is very subjective:
does one like the singer’s voice or not? Unlike with instrumentalists,
where style is the main criterion of approval, timbre, which,
for the most part is innate, is the differentiating element
Listening to Gilchrist sing this wonderful song-cycle, I had
very mixed feelings. He is certainly an accomplished artist,
and there are times when his airy tenor seems to fit the music
quite well; for example, two of the slower songs, Des Müllers
Blumen and Tränenregen, near the middle of the cycle,
sound quite nice in his voice. He has a good control of vibrato,
which he generally uses mostly at the end of phrases rather
than a permanent waver. This style of singing sounds much more
like a baroque method of using vibrato than one that lieder
singers use; it’s worth noting that Gilchrist has performed
and recorded a number of Bach cantatas and other baroque works.
One aside: I am constantly irked by the odd habit of British
singers to roll their Rs in German songs much more than many
Germanic singers do; it sounds odd and affected. This is present
in certain songs more than others, but when I hear it, it makes
But Gilchrist’s airy voice doesn’t work throughout the cycle,
and he tries to compensate for this by slowing down some of
the songs; a technique which, in my opinion, does not always
work very well.
One difficult song in this cycle is Der Jäger, which
is quite rapid, and calls for an extremely detailed technique
in order to keep up with the piano. Gilchrist has trouble here,
and a couple of times in this song he audibly gasps to keep
his breathing up to speed.
In Die liebe Farbe, one of the most melancholy songs
in the cycle, I find that Gilchrist just doesn’t express the
emotion for which this song calls. Gilchrist has a “sweet” quality,
a tenor leaning almost toward that of a counter-tenor, and this
song calls for more “bite”, more seriousness. Comparing Gilchrist’s
recording with Ian Bostridge’s version of this song on his Hyperion
record with Graham Johnson shows some striking differences.
Not only is Bostridge far more emotive, but the overall tempo
- one minute less in Bostridge’s recording - gives this song
much more power than Gilchrist’s plodding approach. The same
is the case for Peter Schreier’s recording with Andras Schiff;
with a tempo close to that of Bostridge, he sculpts this song
more richly than Gilchrist who attempts to make it more emotional
by slowing it down.
In Des Baches Wiegenlied, the final song, Gilchrist again
opts for a slow tempo - once again, more than a minute slower
than Bostridge or Schreier - as if to compensate by speed for
the sound of his voice. This song sounds sweet here; not the
effect that the song should truly give to the listener.
I found the overwhelming reverberation in this recording disturbing,
and the position of the voice seems to be a bit too distant
and is sometimes too soft compared to the piano. Unlike the
wonderful mix of the Bostridge/Johnson recording, Gilchrist
and Tilbrook sound a bit muddy.
I should note that we have another
review of this recording on MusicWeb International, by my
colleague John Quinn. I didn’t read his review until I wrote
the above, but then went to see what he had said. John talks
about Gilchrist’s performance being “dark”, and it seems to
me the only darkness is expressed here by tempo, because it’s
so difficult for a voice as light as his to express the darkness
in this cycle.
Nevertheless, Gilchrist does have a fine, attractive voice.
While some of the songs work well, I find that the overall cycle
doesn’t provide the same satisfaction as, say, Bostridge’s recording
(if one limits the field to tenors), or Fischer-Dieskau’s 1961
recording with Gerald Moore, recently reviewed here.
see also review by John