Insomnia - A Nocturnal Voyage in Song
William Berger (baritone)
Iain Burnside (piano)
rec. 13-14 February 2012, Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh
See below for detailed list of contents
DELPHIAN DCD34116 [55:42]
This is a very good idea for a recital disc. William Berger’s programme, based around a recital at the 2011 Lucerne Festival, links a disparate range of songs associated with the night, ostensibly tracing the narrative of the sleepless night of a man obsessed with his beloved. As you can see from the track-listing below, the songs are grouped together by time, beginning at 19:30 with Mozart’s Abendempfindung, proceeding through the grim watches of the night with Wolf’s Um Mitternacht and Liszt’s Oh! quand je dors, and ending with the more optimistic world of Strauss’s Morgen at 06:00. It isn’t airtight, but it’s a good idea and it makes a stimulating programme.
Unfortunately, however, I’m not convinced that Berger’s is the voice to carry it off. His singing, to me, sounds pale and often emaciated, as if he lacks the confidence in his own material. To my ears he often seems to be searching for the tone rather than revelling in it, as if feeling his way into the repertoire rather than essaying it with confidence. He sounds solid enough - all the notes are undoubtedly there - but there is no ring, no richness, no sense of cresting a wave. He is best at the bottom of his range; the middle can seem directionless and vapid, and too often there is an evidently strenuous stretch to the top notes. In Warlock’s Night he tends to wobble in the opening monotones, and he even sounds a little strangled in the melismas of Fauré’s Mandoline. Furthermore, the voice frequently has a nasal twang and it lacks the necessary ease for, say, the Sérénade toscane. I also found it difficult to relax into the gentler songs like Liszt’s Oh! quand je dors. It’s not that the singing itself is necessarily effortful: it’s more that I found the colour of the voice pale and monochromatic. It’s, frankly, just not to my taste, though I’m prepared to admit that this might be an entirely personal thing that other listeners will not share.
No such criticisms can be levelled at Iain Burnside’s piano accompaniment which is unfailingly sensitive and powerfully communicative throughout. The dreamy undulations of Mandoline are a knockout, as is the gently suggestive accompaniment to Wolf’s Um Mitternacht, to name but two examples.
Just not to my taste.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)
Claude Debussy (1862-1918)
2 Nuit d’étoiles
Maurice Ravel (1875-1937)
3 Le grillon
Gabriel Fauré (1845-1924)
4 Claire de lune
Peter Warlock (1894-1930)
5 The Night
Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958)
Richard Rodney Bennett (b. 1936)
Franz Schubert (1797-1828)
8 Auf der Bruck
Hugo Wolf (1860-1903)
9 Um Mitternacht
10 Schon streckt’ ich aus im Bett
12 Sérénade toscane
13 Nicht länger kann ich singen
Raymond Yiu (b. 1973)
14 Sonnet (2011)
Franz Liszt (1811-1886)
15 Oh! quand je dors
16 Und steht Ihr früh am Morgen auf
Richard Strauss (1864-1949)
Clara Schumann (1819-1896)
18 Der Mond kommt still gegangen
Charles Gounod (1818-1893)
19 Viens! Les gazons sont verts!