CLASSICAL Angelika Kirschschlager Nick Kimberley on a young mezzo who'd do better to keep the Wolf from her door

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The Independent Culture
With some justification, the Wigmore Hall audience likes to think of itself as a caring group of connoisseurs, ever on the look-out for emerging talent, which it subjects to the most exacting scrutiny and then, if it comes up to scratch, supports to the hilt. The connoisseurs and their notepads were out in force on Thursday for a recital by the young Austrian mezzo-soprano Angelika Kirschschlager. To judge from the applause, she passed the test with flying colours.

This is something of a Golden Age for young mezzos, some of them (Elena Zaremba, Nathalie Stutzmann) going so far as to claim contralto status, perhaps to suggest that the voice-type is no mere half-shadow of a soprano, but something entirely its own. Kirschschlager isn't in that category. Although it's plenty loud enough, the voice is light and airy, the chest register transparent, with none of that exhilarating, rib-rattling toughness that, in some singers, seems to threaten the very vocal fabric even as it thrills the listener.

The suppleness of the voice is supported by a rapid vibrato, mostly attractive but occasionally intruding on vocal clarity. She opened the second half of her recital with five songs which Erich Korngold published in 1947, after he had established himself as one of Hollywood's most celebrated composers. Although clearly in the European art-song tradition, they show signs of something American. "Gluckwunsch" (Congratulation) could almost be a pop song in the way the voice is made to drop at the end of each phrase, and Kirschschlager handled it with subtlety. But in "Der Kranke" (Ailing) the emotional gestures become broader, and so did Kirschschlager's vibrato, to the extent that she almost seemed to be crooning.

Not that there was anything crass in this. Quite the opposite: if Kirschschlager has a fault, it is a certain primness, both in the voice and in the platform manner. With clipped, precise support from pianist Helmut Deutsch, she sang with exactness and finesse and, of course, perfect German. She was comfortable in the serious moments of Brahms's Five Folksongs, getting a real pining tone in "Es steht ein' Lind" ( A Lime Tree Stands). Several songs, though, call on the singer to be a flighty, flirty young thing, and here Kirschschlager came across as the nice school prefect letting her hair down at the end-of-term revue.

Most moving was Schumann's Maria Stuart Lieder. The voice faded away delicately as Mary bade farewell to France; then became nicely conversational in her "Abschied von der Welt", aware that over-emphasis could turn into "Goodbye, cruel world!" histrionics. She ended with 10 songs by Hugo Wolf - about half a dozen too many for this listener - and then surprised us all with a relaxed, witty and far from coy encore of Kurt Weill's Der Abschiedsbrief (Farewell Letter). The programme biography told us that she is planning a complete Weill recital later this year in Vienna: "More Weill, less Wolf" is not a bad rule for any singer, say I.