The Path of Life: Ilker Arcay¸rek sings Schubert at Wigmore Hall

I first heard Istanbul-born, Austrian tenor Ilker Arcay¸rek at Easter this
year, when he performed

J.S. Bach’s St. John Passion with the Academy of Ancient Music

at the Barbican Hall. On that occasion, I admired Arcay¸rek’s effortless
lyricism which, as if loaded like honey on a gilded painter’s brush, also
infused this all-Schubert recital at Wigmore Hall. Arcay¸rek displayed a
beguilingly easeful delivery of both text and melodic line: he clearly had
lots of power in reserve, but for the most he kept it there, focusing our
attention instead on the naturalness of his vocal expression. The tenor has
a direct gaze and an earnest desire to communicate, without mannerism or
artifice; in fact, it was perhaps a pity that he did not perform these
songs from memory, particularly as the music stand and score seemed largely
redundant. Accompanist Ammiel Bushakevitz has a similarly relaxed, unfussy
manner. His relaxed differentiation of the different strands within the
piano textures, and their relative import, made a considerable contribution
to the full gamut of emotions and experiences encountered this ‘Path of

The recital was divided into two parts, eight single songs prefacing the
20-minute ‘Einsamkeit’. Bushakevitz’s introduction to ‘Fischerweise’
burbled insouciantly, a fitting opening for this carefree work-song (we
heard Schubert’s 2nd version, Op.96 No.4), though some telling rubatos and
subtleties infused it with an artistry more elevated than one might expect
of a fisherman’s ditty. ‘An Silvia’ was similarly untroubled, though again,
not without thoughtful communication of the text. After the dreamy softness
of the poet’s second-stanza reflections on his beloved’s gentle child-like
charm, the final stanza was more forthright and purposeful in its
resounding dedication of the song to Sylvia’s honour, and Bushakevitz’s
Mozartian clarity kept over-sentimentality at bay.

In ‘Der Wanderer an der Mond’ we enjoyed the beautiful warmth of
Arcay¸rek’s tenor as it rose to question the moon, ‘Was mag der Unterschied
wohl sein?’ There was attentiveness to the expressive details of the text
here, too, the tenor’s precisely rolled ‘r’ – ‘Wir wander Beide r¸stig zu’
– furthering the currents of the piano’s rippling chords, and conveying the
briskness of the poet’s journey through the night with his lunar companion.
Bushakevitz complemented such nuances, neglecting not the smallest dynamic
gesture or harmonic colouring, as the piano’s gentle rhythmic fluctuations
created an ambiguous balance between irony and innocence. In contrast,
‘Atys’ unfolded like a heavy, burdensome sigh. Occasionally Arcay¸rek had a
tendency to throw away the last word or syllable of a phrase, which
weakened the intensity of the rhymes, but there was effective rhetorical
energy in the central section, ‘Ich liebe, ich rase, ich hab sie gesehn’ (I
live, I rage, I have seen her) etc., and the tensions of the major/minor
alternations with the return of the main melody were expressive.

I found some of the central songs in the sequence a little too slow, and
although the mood of dream-like rapture evoked by Bushakevitz’s refined
rhythmic freedom and Arcay¸rek’s dulcet head-voice in ‘Sei mir gegr¸sst’ (I
greet you) produced a lovely wistfulness, the slow tempo also drew
attention to the imprecision of the articulation of some of the poet’s
rhymes, and Arcay¸rek lost his way a little through the chromatic twists
and turns. The piano bass resonated with melancholy weight in ‘Wehmut’,
from which the light tenor line floated, detached from the world, lost in
forlorn musing. Again, though, I thought that the languorous tempo weakened
the impact of the harmonic journey, and the expressive shifts between major
and minor modes; it also made it more of a challenge for Arcay¸rek to
centre the pitch, particularly when beauty vanished and passed away at the
close (‘Entschwindet, und vergeht’).

The steady tempo suited ‘Der Wanderer’ however, emphasising Bushakevitz’s
discerning ebbs and flows and Arcay¸rek’s attentiveness to the text: the
ardency of his cry, ‘Wo bist du?’, was complemented by the piano’s
repeating triplets which created a strong onward narrative yet were also
laden with emotion. The changing moods of the stanzas unfolded
persuasively, and the piano’s delicate, suspended final cadence became the
persistent whisper that tortures the poet: ‘Dort, wo du nicht bist/ dort
ist das Gl¸ck!’ (There, where you are not, there fortune lies!’)

This was truly beautiful singing, though perhaps still an
interpretation-in-progress. The crafting of the vocal line’s appoggiaturas,
the intended effect of the different notation employed for the rhythms of
tenor and piano (do Schubert’s dotted and triplet rhythms denote the same
thing?), the balance between loveliness and narrative: further reflections
on such matters will surely follow and deepen Arcay¸rek’s performance. With
the appearance of the ‘Geisterhauch’ (ghostly whisper), Arcay¸rek dropped
only an octave from the question, ‘Wo?’, but the deep plummet to a low G#
surely emphasises the poet’s weary, anxious despondency. However, such tiny
concerns were pushed aside by the easy mellifluousness of ‘Litanei auf das
Fest aller Seelen’ (Litany for the Feast of All Souls) which, lying fairly
low in the tenor’s range, showcased the gentleness of the vocal rises;
there was a consoling warmth here and it was a pity that we heard only two
of the poet’s seven stanzas.

And so, the path had taken us to ‘Einsamkeit’. I felt that Bushakevitz
played too freely with the rhythm of the piano introduction, rushing
through the semibreves and distorting the mood of the opening verse in
which the poet-speaker yearns for the solitude which will serve as a sacred
refreshment to his spirit. But, the threat of mental disintegration which
follows was powerfully conveyed and the accumulation of tension and pace as
the stanzas progressed was well controlled. Perhaps the silent pause which
follows the easing back preceding the return of melancholy might have been
just a little longer – the sort of risk-taking that pushes the emotive
power of the setting further still – and the agony of the pain of longing
even more piercing? Arcay¸rek wonderfully conveys enraptured introspection
but the anguished suffering of Schubert’s wanderers is less persuasive.

If I were to venture any ‘criticism’, it would be that this recital was all
just too achingly beautiful -though, I confess, this is hardly cause for
complaint, and (as regular readers of this journal will know), my own
preferences tend towards the bitter, burning distortions and troughs of
despair of the interpretations of Ian Bostridge. Arcay¸rek and Bushakevitz
clearly enjoyed their lunchtime visit to Wigmore Hall, as did the warmly
appreciative audience. Arcay¸rek grew up in the district of Vienna in which
Schubert died, and his encore, ‘Wandrers Nachtlied II’, showed his instinct
for the Schubertian alliance of freshness and vulnerability – something I
would be very happy to hear again.

Claire Seymour

The Path of Life
: Ilker Arcay¸rek (tenor), Ammiel Bushakevitz (piano)

Schubert: ‘Fischerweise’, ‘An Silvia’, ‘Der Wanderer an den Mond’, ‘Atys’,
‘Sei mir gegr¸sst’, ‘Wehmut’, ‘Der Wanderer’ D493, ‘Litanei auf das Fest
aller Seelen’, ‘Einsamkeit’.

Wigmore Hall, London; Monday 10th September 2018.

product_title=Ilker Arcay¸rek (tenor) and Ammiel Bushakevitz (piano), BBC Radio 3 Lunchtime Concert at Wigmore Hall, 10th September 2018
product_by=A review by Claire Seymour
product_id= Above: Ilker Arcay¸rek

Photo credit: Janina Laszlo