Insomnia - A Nocturnal Voyage in Song
see end of review for track listing
William Berger (baritone); Iain Burnside (piano)
rec. Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh, 13-14 February 2012. DDD
Original texts and English translations included
DELPHIAN DCD34116 [55:42]

To the best of my recollection I’ve not previously heard the baritone William Berger and this may be his solo debut disc. However, you’ll find him as one of the soloists on Ludus Baroque’s 2010 recording of Handel’s Alexander’s Feast (review). This present disc preserves a recital programme that he devised for the 2011 Lucerne Festival. As Richard Stokes tells us in his excellent notes, the programme describes “a sleepless night experienced by a man who reflects on his love for an unnamed woman.” As Stokes comments, it’s never made clear whether the woman in question is alive, dead - or only exists in the man’s dreams. The programme, laced with good helpings of Fauré and Wolf - and none the worse for that - is imaginatively and discerningly put together. The songs are grouped round various times in the evening and night, which I’ve deliberately included in the track-listing.
Berger impresses from the outset with a firm, well focused baritone. He sets his stall out in Mozart’s Abendempfindung, which he delivers with a lovely, easy legato. The voice is evenly produced throughout its compass; diction is clear; the texts are put across with intelligence and understanding; and the tone is warm and unforced. In a sense I could leave it there since these prove to be the hallmarks of Berger’s singing throughout the programme. To do so, however, would be unfair, not least to the singer, whose performances I greatly enjoyed.
He proves to be very good in Fauré. His vocal timbre sounds authentically Gallic in Claire de lune and I also enjoyed his performance of Mandoline very much. He also impresses in English song. He is able to produce, in Richard Stokes’ phrase, the necessary “peerless legato” in Warlock’s atmospheric song and I was delighted to find him selecting pieces by Vaughan Williams and Richard Rodney Bennett that aren’t exactly common currency in the recital room. On this evidence I’d very much like to hear him again in English song.
Hugo Wolf’s hypnotic Um Mitternacht is very well done. Berger and Burnside convey the brooding ambience and this is one of many items in which Berger’s legato and fine sense of line pay dividends. Oh! quand je dors is a delight. Berger deploys a wonderful mezza voce at times, such as the end of the second stanza and the last line of all, hushed and intense, is most sensitively done. Morgen! seems to have been appropriated by female singers but there’s absolutely no reason why a man shouldn’t sing it. Berger excels here, giving a rapt performance; the wonderfully withdrawn delivery of the last line is particularly admirable.
Iain Burnside is a fine accompanist, adept at switching from one style to another and supporting his singer admirably yet not to the detriment of his own musical personality. Only once did I have any doubts. His playing seems rather forceful in Schubert’s Auf der Bruck. Of course, there must be urgency but Burnside seems a bit forceful and the tone hardens as a result. To find a quick comparison I took down the 1994 Schubert recital disc by Bryn Terfel and Malcolm Martineau (DG). It seems to me that Martineau’s playing, while urgent, is not as driven as Burnside’s - or maybe the piano was recorded with a bit more distance by DG. In the interests of balance, however, I should say that I preferred the pacing in this Berger/Burnside recording: they are slightly more measured - though by no means slow - and by comparison Terfel and Martineau sound a bit rushed.
This is a fine recital, which I enjoyed very much. Careful thought has gone into the programme building and the execution of the programme is consistently excellent. The recorded sound is up to Delphian’s usual high standards, as is the documentation though I am disappointed that most of the English translations are printed below the original texts: a side-by-side presentation is much easier to follow. The playing time may seem on the short side but on this occasion I think one can overlook this since the disc preserves the integrity of the original recital programme. In any case, this is an instance where quality is much more important than quality.
This is a distinguished and enjoyable recital. More please!
John Quinn 
A distinguished and enjoyable recital. 

see also review by Simon Thompson

Track listing

Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Abendempfindung [4:57]
Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)
Nuit d’étoiles [3:02]
Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)
Le grillon [3:07]
Gabriel FAURÉ (1845-1924)
Claire de lune [3:11]
Peter WARLOCK (1894-1930)
The Night [2:00]
Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS (1872-1958)
Tired [2:31]
Richard Rodney BENNETT (b. 1936)
Dream-Song [2:26]
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Auf der Bruck [3:39]
Hugo WOLF (1860-1903)
Um Mitternacht [4:18]
Schon streckt’ ich aus im Bett [1:51]
Gabriel FAURÉ
Mandoline [1:56]
Sérénade toscane [2:50]
Nicht länger kann ich singen [1:22]
Raymond YIU (b. 1973)
Sonnet (2011) [3:35]
Franz LISZT (1811-1886)
Oh! quand je dors [4:48]
Und steht Ihr früh am Morgen auf [2:55]
Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949)
Morgen! [3:58]
Clara SCHUMANN (1819-1896)
Der Mond kommt still gegangen [2:04]
Charles GOUNOD (1818-1893)
Viens! Les gazons sont verts! [1:12]