Classical review: The British Schubert, Wigmore Hall, London
Monday 15 April 2013
The word 'accompanist' comes loaded with prejudice: the singer is the thing, with the shadowy figure at the keyboard merely expected to play the notes. Yes, of course it’s nonsense, but until Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau publicly proclaimed the brilliance of the great Gerald Moore, this was the prevalent view.
Yet pianists who accompany singers are chamber players in the full sense of the word, and nowhere more than with Schubert’s songs, in which the requisite keyboard artistry is every bit as demanding as the artistry required of the singer.
Some famous pianists just can’t do it, and the brand-leaders’ approaches are as various as those of their soloists. But it was entirely appropriate that the Wigmore Hall should honour the indefatigable Graham Johnson – the one-man powerhouse behind a remarkable flowering of accompanied performance and recording over the past four decades – by assembling a galaxy of stars to mark the publication of his magnum opus on Schubert.
And no accompanist could have made a better MC for this event, provocatively entitled ‘The British Schubert’. It was nice to learn that Schubert was an avid consumer of American adventure stories, and that The Last of the Mohicans was his bedside reading. I had forgotten – if I ever knew – the real origin of the ubiquitous ‘Ave Maria’, now conventionally sung in Latin and perennially associated with pop stars and Roman Catholic piety.
As Johnson reminded us, Schubert wrote it to be sung by the mythical Ellen Douglas in a rocky Highland eyrie as she lamented the plight of her outlawed father. Sir Walter Scott was a hero to the German Romantics – Mendelssohn made a point of visiting him on his trip to the Hebrides – and his The Lady of the Lake not only inspired Rossini’s opera of that name, it also inspired Schubert to compose a song-cycle which, as sung by Ailish Tynan, superbly evoked that mistily romantic world.
Johnson’s singers were led by Britain’s queen of dramatic mezzos Sarah Connolly, who brought a finely nuanced and wonderfully full-blooded sound to songs as varied as 15-year-old Schubert’s ‘Verklarung’ and his sinister ‘Old Scottish Ballad’ which she sang in a nightmarishly creepy duet with baritone Christopher Maltman. Baritone Benjamin Appl delivered ‘Trinklied’ in a suitably drunken manner, while tenor Robin Tritschler – very much a rising star - wrung the heart with ‘Der blinde Knabe’. Finally the stage filled with Johnson’s Guildhall students for a concerted farewell blast.
Final Top Gear reviewTV
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Michelle Watt's father says TV presenter killed herself because she was in constant pain
- 2 Nathan Collier: Montana man inspired by same-sex marriage ruling requests right to wed two wives
- 3 'Help me I'm trapped in a factory' messages keep being found on bottles of vitamin water
- 4 North Korean defector flees to Finland 'with evidence of chemical testing on humans'
- 5 Greek debt crisis: The photograph that conveys the despair of Greece's elderly
Bad luck, One Direction: Paul McCartney doubts success of The Beatles will ever be matched again
This is surely the best way to watch Jaws
Game of Thrones season 6: Daenerys actress Emilia Clarke says '50/50 chance' Jon Snow is alive
Guillaume Tell's gang-rape scene caused uproar at the Royal Opera House – but the portrayal of extreme sex and violence on stage is nothing new
The last decade has produced just four UK festival headline acts
Nathan Collier: Montana man inspired by same-sex marriage ruling requests right to wed two wives
Greece crisis: IMF was pushed around by Angela Merkel and Nicholas Sarkozy – and now it is being humiliated
Forget little green men – aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert
'I wish the BBC would stop calling it Islamic State' – David Cameron unleashes frustration at broadcaster
Greece crisis: The wider lesson is that it’s time to abandon this failed experiment in currencies
Girl, 7, stares down hate preacher at Ohio festival with pro-LGBT rainbow flag gesture