A capacity crowd at the Wigmore Hall eagerly awaited the arrival of Andreas
Scholl and Tamar Halperin on the platform on Tuesday evening. Given the famed
serene beauty of Scholl’s countertenor, the programme of mostly slow,
contemplative songs from sixteenth- and seventeenth- century England, followed
by simple canzonettas by Haydn and folksong arrangements by Brahms, promised
However, Scholl took some time to settle down. Purcell has formed a staple
element of his concert programmes and recordings of recent years, and he is
renowned for the quiet, controlled restraint which so much of this repertoire
demands; yet, the opening two songs suffered from a rather constricted, thin
tone and a few problems with intonation. ‘Music for a while’
epitomises the composer’s deep, reflective style, characterised by a
controlled simplicity which calls for clarity of line and carefully, flowing
phrases. One would expect Scholl to effortlessly deliver the goods, but in
contrast to the dark, expressive elaborations of Israeli harpsichord Tamar
Halperin’s introductory harpsichord realisation, the vocal line rather
lacked shape and focus, the phrases disrupted by exaggerated by over-emphasis
on textual repetitions.
Scholl’s diction was also quite poor with consonants and vowels all
sounding rather similar. Although it did improve as the evening progressed, he
did not ever quite capture the subtleties of the texts, the rich suggestions
latent in its metaphors and understatements — as in, for example,
Johnson’s ‘Have you seen the bright lily grow/ Before rude hands
have touched it?’ The exclamatory flourishes of ‘Sweeter than
roses’ did, however, demonstrate his theatricality as the striking
textual images triggered rapidly changing vocal moods, complemented by varied
The first instrumental item completed this Purcellian group.
Halperin’s rendering of ‘Round O’ was delicate and
restrained; thoughtful ritenuti in the variations made the
restatements of the theme seem relaxed and inevitable. Later, the slow movement
of Handel’s F Major suite was similarly affective; the repeated
middle-register chords above which the ornate stream of melody unfolds were
evenly and carefully placed, a ceaseless, sustained bed of sound for the
decorative figurations above. One longed for several more movements from this
Scholl continued with repertory by lutenists associated with the Elizabethan
and Stuart courts — John Dowland, Robert Johnson and Thomas Campion. Here
there was more attention to the small details in the texts: in ‘Sorrow,
stay’, Scholl’s gentle tone brought out the quiet despair of
phrases such as ‘Mark me not to endless pain’, and some simple
word-painting was made more pungent by oppositions of major and minor
tonalities. The energy and optimism of ‘Say, Love, if ever thou didst
find’ introduced a welcome contrast to the melancholy mood.
Campion’s ‘I care not for these ladies’ was the most bright
and fresh of these songs, as Scholl really engaged with the narrative, subtly
changing tempo, pausing or altering emphases to convey the wit and humour of
the text. The cry — ‘forsooth: let go!’ — of the girl
who is courted and kissed by the poet-speaker, was at first one of denial, then
lacked conviction, and finally seemed decidedly inviting!
A return to Purcell brought the first half to a close, and the sensuous
sentiments of ‘O solitude’ brought forth a greater range of colour
from Scholl, as he shaped the wide ranging phrases effectively, making
expressive use of his dark-hued lower register.
After the interval, Scholl seemed more relaxed and the songs by Haydn and
Brahms were eloquently delivered. The simplicity of Haydn’s three
canzonettas was enlivened by the light, playful accompanying gestures which
Halperin, now seated at the piano, introduced, and she demonstrated a similar
understated restraint and firm appreciation of classical balance and form in
the composer’s Sonata in A, the movements propelling ceaselessly forward
into one coherent whole. In the ornate triplets of the Andante, Halperin
sustained the evenness of the continuous flowing line while shaping individual
motifs with grace. Subtle manipulation of the tempo deepened the expressive
power of the minor key Trio in the Minuet, before a rapid alleviating of mood
in the jovial Finale.
Scholl seemed most at home in four folksongs selected from Brahms’
Deutsche Volkslieder. In ‘Guten Abend’ he effectively
conveyed the tension between the two voices, ‘Er’ and
‘Sie’, engaged in an awkward discussion about love. A similar
opposition in ‘Es ging ein Maidlein zarte’ (A tender maid went
out’) was further enhanced by the contrasting accompanying textures, rich
chords conveying the natural world in which the ‘cheerful healthy
maiden’ delighted, being juxtaposed with low halting, hollow octaves.
Halperin brought much insight to these rich accompaniments, and also showed
great invention in the improvisatory accompaniments to the three English
folk-songs which concluded the recital. Now fully at ease, Scholl’s
warmer and more relaxed tone led to increased textual clarity, which in turn
helped him develop a closer relationship with the audience.
Indeed, throughout the performance Scholl sought to engage directly with his
listeners, frequently prefacing the songs with explanations and introductions.
Occasionally this destroyed the continuity of mood that the music itself
established, however; and, similarly, there was rather too much to-ing and
fro-ing between items, as the performers left and re-entered the stage when
they were not themselves performing.
There was even some audience participation — not a regular occurrence
at the Wigmore Hall! — when, before the interval, Scholl invited us to
join in with the refrain of Purcell’s ‘Man is for the Woman Made’,
in which he himself deployed his conventional tenor register. According to his
preamble, Purcell intended the song to provide some light relief for the
original theatre audiences. A little surprised, but delighted by the
invitation, the Hall proved in fine voice. Indeed, the recital had begun rather
unconventionally when one rather exuberant member of the audience greeted the
appearance of their ‘idol’ with football-crowd style whooping
— possibly the first time such ‘unmusical’ sounds had been
heard inside the hallowed walls of the Hall? The more familiar appreciative
cries of ‘Bravo’ brought the evening to a warm conclusion.
Purcell: Music for a while; Sweeter than roses; Round O
Dowland: Sorrow, stay, lend true repentant tears; I saw my lady weep; Say,
Love, if ever thou didst find
Handel: Two movements from Suite No.2 in F
Johnson: Have you seen the bright lily grow?
Campion: I care not for these ladies
Purcell: O solitude, my sweetest choice; Man is for the woman made
Haydn: Two English Canzonettas; Sonata in A HXVI:12
Brahms: Four folksongs arranged from the Deutsche Volkslieder
Three Traditional Folksongs: I will give my love an apple; O waly waly; My love
is like a red, red rose
product_title=Andreas Scholl, Wigmore Hall
product_by=Andreas Scholl, countertenor; Tamar Halperin, harpsichord/piano. Wigmore
Hall, London, Tuesday 7th June, 2011.