BWW Reviews: Andreas Scholl at the Ware Center, Lancaster
On Wednesday, December 5, Central Pennsylvania's sorely-lacking classical vocal music scene was improved by an immense magnitude with the arrival of German countertenor Andreas Scholl at the Ware Center, Lancaster. Appearing with his accompanist (and also his wife), Tel Aviv classical pianist Tamar Halperin, through the auspices of Gretna Music, Scholl held the audience spellbound with a song-cycle collection of English early music and German lieder.
Scholl's regular non-operatic repertoire has long included a wide selection of English early music, particularly Purcell (as may be recalled from his Purcell CD, "O Solitude") – indeed, among current countertenors, he is one of the finest, as well as the most knowledgeable, of the early music singers. The first half of the recital, similar to his performance at Wigmore Hall, London, in November, was a collection of early music, including Purcell, Campion, Johnson and Dowland, with the charming addition of some 18th century vocal works, Haydn's settings of three of London poet Anne Hunter's works. The audience was particularly amused by Scholl's presentation of Campion's "I care not for these ladies," an especially humorous piece; Scholl's dramatic presentation in recitals, which cannot be seen by those who listen only to his CDs, is always excellent, and his vocal humor was equally present. (Additional vocal "assistance" from Halperin also had the audience laughing in their seats.)
Halperin is a fine concert pianist as well as an accompanist, and her work on Haydn's "Despair" is worth noting. Hunter's texts were composed around her grief at the death of her husband, a noted London surgeon; Haydn's piano line for "Despair" is as heavy as the subject and lyrics, but the musical line between verses is comparatively, and surprisingly, light; Halperin handled the transition between the two deftly. In Halperin's hands, as well, the piano line accompanying Scholl in the Purcell pieces achieved that rarest of things, a unity between itself and the vocal line so complete that singer and piano seemed to be one complex instrument.
It is not rare for countertenors to sing lieder; however, extensive though the second half of the recital was, it did not feel quite as successful as the first half. This is hardly for lack of talent by either singer or accompanist, but unfortunately Scholl's interpretation of Brahms' melodies feels short of definitive, and while his interpretations of some of the slower lieder are novel, they do not necessarily elevate the works. However on some of the lighter numbers, such as Mozart's setting of Goethe's "Das Veilchen," the touch was particularly light and extremely impressive; it would, one thinks, do a massive service to lovers of Mozart for Scholl to devote perhaps a bit more time yet to him. Helperin notes of "Das Veilchen" that the piano line represents the girl, or shepherdess – "I see it almost like a cartoon; it's very funny!" It is, and is the sort of thing that an aware audience would enjoy more of.
Scholl's performance of Schubert's "Der Tod und das Madchen" succeeded in shocking and delighting an audience that forgot, as one does tend to, that men who sing countertenor usually possess an underlying baritone as well; after singing the first half, the young women's part, in his ethereal countertenor, he presented Death's dialogue in a particularly fine baritone that most of his followers have not had the pleasure to hear. The remarkable contrast was the highlight of the second half, wisely presented near the end of the program.
According to Scholl, "I like the 16th Century English repertoire as well as the German lieder. I enjoy combining them on programs; I wouldn't want to do without either of them." There is, indeed, no reason not to do so, although there might be some call for a slight adjustment of selection.
The current tour of Scholl and Halperin marks the debut of Scholl's current CD, "The Wanderer," a collection of song and lieder cycles. It is continuing for some months, and is worth catching if possible, not only for the privilege of seeing Scholl performing live, but for discovering Halperin's fine piano talents.