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.
Glastonbury Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend will perform with Paul Weller as their warm-up act
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Katie Hopkins gives rare glimpse of sensitive side with heartfelt open letter to her children penned in case she dies from epilepsy
- 2 Rihanna's Met Gala dress took one Chinese woman 2 years to make, was reduced to omelette meme in 2 seconds
- 3 Top Gear: Jodie Kidd, Philip Glenister and Guy Martin 'in advanced talks' to replace Jeremy Clarkson and co
- 4 Frankie Boyle on Scottish independence: 'In the Interests of Unity, F**k Off'
- 5 Florida couple forced to register as sex offenders for having sex on public beach
Penny Dreadful, series 2 episode 1, review: It is still gloriously silly
Top Gear: Jodie Kidd, Philip Glenister and Guy Martin 'in advanced talks' to replace Jeremy Clarkson and co
Eurovision 2015: What date and time is the song contest and who are the favourites to win?
How the Other Half Eat, Channel 4 - TV review: Swapping food trolleys shows how food and class are closely connected
Noel Gallagher 'cannot wait' to hear Oasis-inspired One Direction album but rants about 'pointless' Tidal and Spotify
In defence of liberal democracy
General Election 2015: Post-election 'shambles' looms as 70 per cent of voters say SNP 'should not be able to veto UK government policies'
The Rothschild Libel: Why has it taken 200 years for an anti-Semitic slur that emerged from the Battle of Waterloo to be dismissed?
General Election 2015: UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power, Labour warns
General election live: SNP suspends two members for disrupting Labour rally
Schools forced to act as 'miniature welfare states' with teachers buying underwear and even haircuts for poor pupils