Philippe Jaroussky and JÈrÙme Ducros perform Schubert at Wigmore Hall

Tenor or baritone? Male or female voice? Perhaps Angelika Kirchschlager
would convince you, as she did me

at Temple Church in 2018

, that Winterreise communicates an essential human
experience, rather than an explicitly male or female perspective? Then, I
recall a performance, with Julius Drake once again at the piano, by Iestyn

at Middle Temple Hall in 2017

, in which his countertenor brought a simplicity and freshness to the
initial optimism of the carefree country youth who sets out on his pastoral
wanderings in Die schˆne M¸llerin. And, just this month the
Voyager Quartet have released a recording of

songs from Winterreise arranged for string quartet

, with specially composed Intermezzi placed between the songs.

In this Wigmore Hall recital, French countertenor Philippe Jaroussky
strayed from what one might consider his ‘home patch’, the music of the
seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, into the waters of early
nineteenth-century Romanticism, and presented twenty of Schubert’s lieder.
He was accompanied by pianist JÈrÙme Ducros with whom Jaroussky has
previously recorded nineteenth-century French melodies (


(2015), and



All of Jaroussky’s distinguished and distinctive vocal qualities –
elegance, precision, mellifluous lyricism and sweet warmth of tone – were
brought to bear on these German lieder and if one occasionally missed the
range of colour, variety of weight and tonal darkness with which a tenor or
baritone might inject drama and tension, then Jaroussky’s exquisite
phrasing and Ducros’ sensitivity were more than recompense. Indeed, I
cannot overstate the contribution that Ducros’ relaxed virtuosity and
expressive insight made to the duo’s persuasive expressive artistry. From
the first song, ‘Im Fr¸hling’, the pianist naturally inhabited the ‘spirit’
of the idiom. The relaxed piano introduction conjured the reflective
wistfulness of the poet-speaker, while the subsequent switch to the minor
mode, with the protagonist’s acknowledgement of human frailties, was
pointed with a subtle quickening and a tensing of the tone, before a dreamy
rubato eased the young man back into his memories.

That said, the first entry of the voice did still startle, the countertenor
tone and timbre seeming an interloper to ears familiar with this repertory.
And, as the recital unfolded, certain challenges were evident, and not
always fully overcome. Occasionally Jaroussky’s voice lacked the inner
tension required to convey the textual ambiguities and irony: “Die
Sehnsucht du,/ Und was sie stillt” (you are longing and what stills it),
sings the poet-speaker at the opening of ‘Du bist die Ruh’, but I missed
the intensity of the paradox and, later, the sense of overwhelming emotions
as the voice climbs higher: “Treib andern Schmerz/ Aus dieser Brust.”
(Drive other pain from this breast!), though the vocal warmth of
Jaroussky’s pianissimo in the final stanza and the piano’s subtle
pause before the final line were welcome compensation. Elsewhere, as in
‘Nacht und Tr‰ume’, the piano was pushed a little low by the need for
transposition, creating a gulf between the accompaniment’s rumbling depths
– though Ducros achieved a remarkable clarity – and the gleaming arcs of
the vocal line far above.

Yet, as the recital unfolded such matters seemed of little import. As early
as the second song, ‘Des Fischers Liebesgl¸ck’, Jaroussky began to
persuasively transport the listener to poetic worlds, the lower lying vocal
line and smoothly skipping octave leaps capturing all of the fisherman’s
innocent joy and passionate transcendence, the latter confirmed by the
piano’s gentle tierce de Picardie. Jaroussky imbued playful songs
such as ‘An die Laute’, with its whisperings of love, or ‘Wiedersehn’, with
its joyful anticipation of return and reunion, with a beguiling
naturalness: the latter began with a gentle ‘nudge’ forward from the piano
and acquired increasing richness of tone. The duo eschewed sentimentalism
and mannerism, pushing the tempo forward in ‘An die Musik’, and thereby
communicating with directness and strength. They used the the text
effectively in ‘An Sylvia’, the rhythmic repetitions in the piano bass
providing a buoyant foundation for worshipful lover’s reflections on
Sylvia’s peerless beauty and virtue.

Moreover, the songs’ innate inner conflicts became increasingly potent. The
low whispers of ‘Erster Verlust’ – “Ach, ver bringt die schone Tage,/ Wer
jene holde Zeit zur¸ck!” (Ah, who will bring the fair days back, who that
radiant time!) – mourned with sweet sadness; ‘Gruppe aus dem Tartarus’
(Scene from Hades) was intensely rhetorical. In the second half of the
recital, Jaroussky seemed to gain confidence and venture more deeply into
the songs’ dramas: ‘Sei mir gegr¸sst’ ranged widely, the poet-speaker’s
initial joy, enhanced by the playful sinuousness of the piano, welled
urgently with memories of separation and loss, and Jaroussky found variety
within the stanzaic form. In both ‘Herbst’ and ‘Auf dem Wasser zu singen’
the duo captured the Romantic paradox which unites simplicity and
intensity, wonder and pain. ‘Im Abendrot’ possessed something of the
strangeness and awe that the wanderer experiences in Winterreise’s ‘Die Nebensonnen’.

‘Litanei auf das Fest aller Seelen’ epitomised their expressive eloquence,
Jaroussky shaping the vocal phrases beautifully to form a long, even
expanse. It seemed fitting that this song slipped segue into
Schubert’s Impromptu in G flat, as the countertenor imperceptibly left the
platform, for Ducros sustained the song’s fluent articulacy, communicating
the core strength and struggle within the tender external weavings and
reflections of the Impromptu. This was playing of rare insight and
musicality. The ten songs in the first half had been similarly divided by
an instrumental item, Schubert’s Klavierst¸ck in E flat, which Duclos
presented with rhetorical clarity and range: a compelling miniature drama.

Should Jaroussky and Duclos consider recording this Schubert programme, I
would tentatively suggest that they might reverse the two final items!
Duclos crafted a strong narrative in ‘Nachst¸ck’, but Jaroussky’s
countertenor doesn’t have the variety of tone to capture the contrasting
voices of the poem’s speakers. The preceding ‘Abendstern’, however, was a
masterclass in the art of song which the duo presented with characteristic
unassuming eloquence.

Claire Seymour

Philippe Jaroussky (countertenor) , JÈrÙme Ducros (piano)

Schubert: ‘Im Fr¸hling’ D882, ‘Des Fischers Liebesgl¸ck’ D933, ‘An die
Laute’ D905, ‘Strophe aus Die Gˆtter Griechenlands’ D677, ‘Wiedersehn’
D855, Klavierst¸ck in E flat D946 No.2, ‘An die Musik’ D547, ‘Erster
Verlust’ D226, ‘An Silvia’ D891, ‘Du bist die Ruh’ D776, ‘Gruppe aus dem
Tartarus’ D583, ‘Sei mir gegr¸sst’ D741, ‘Der Musensohn’ D764, ‘Nacht und
Tr‰ume’ D827, ‘Herbst’ D945, ‘Am Tage aller Seelen’ D343, Impromptu in G
flat D899 No.3, ‘Auf dem Wasser zu singen’ D774, ‘Im Abendrot’ D799, ‘Die
Sterne’ D939, ‘Abendstern’ D806, ‘Nachtst¸ck’ D672

Wigmore Hall, London; Thursday 16th January 2020.

product_title=Schubert lieder at Wigmore Hall: Philippe Jaroussky (countertenor) and JÈrÙme Ducros (piano), Thursday 16th January 2020
product_by=A review by Claire Seymour
product_id=Above: Philippe Jaroussky (countertenor) and JÈrÙme Ducros (piano)