Pape/Terfel/Williams/Hough/Buniatishvili, Verbier Festival

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The Independent Culture

Last year the two greatest bass-baritones in the world did a comic double-act at Verbier: this year they sang on separate nights, but with overlapping repertoire so we could savour the difference between them.

Rene Pape deploys a hyper-expressive thunder, which put Schubert’s ‘Der Atlas’ on a chilly crag: Bryn Terfel’s recital style is becoming ever more laid-back in its easeful authority. With his fellow-Welshman Llyr Williams at the piano, he delivered Schubert’s ‘Auf dem Wasser zu Singen’ so seductively that we could imagine ourselves being rowed across the lake; he brought dark foreboding to Schumann’s ‘Liederkreis’, and infused Quilter’s ‘Three Shakespeare Songs’ with explosive energy.

But the high point of his recital came with the encores. These began as a homage to the American baritone John Charles Thomas, but ended in a hilarious succession of spoofs, in the middle of which he hummed ‘All Through the Night’ sotto voce but still grandly resonant. Bryn always was one of a kind, but his art has now reached its apogee.

Llyr Williams’s accompaniments were notably sensitive, yin to Terfel’s yang, but in his solo piano recital earlier in the day he deployed the virile force we usually associate with him, particularly in Beethoven’s early ‘Sonata Opus 2 no 3’, whose contours were delineated with brilliant clarity. In his hands Liszt’s ‘Benediction de Dieu’ was limpid and graceful, and his account of the ‘Les Adieux’ sonata had lovely eagerness.

Meanwhile two other pianists gave us a foretaste of what they will do in the Proms. The young Georgian firebrand Khatia Buniatishvili revealed fresh beauties in Rachmaninov’s over-played Piano Concerto No 3. She let this late-Romantic masterpiece unfold gently at first, with its passage-work bathed in a caressing glow, but as the barometer of passion rose, so did her compelling virtuosity. On August 8 she will give a lunchtime Proms recital of Liszt and Prokofiev at the Cadogan Hall: that will be a very hot ticket.

Stephen Hough’s recital in the church at Verbier included a pellucid account of Beethoven’s ‘Moonlight’ sonata, a magnificent one of Liszt’s sonata, and an intriguing performance of his own ‘Broken Branches’ sonata. As Britain’s leading pianist, Hough commands close attention whatever he plays, so Saint-Saens’s seldom-performed ‘Egyptian’ concerto in his Prom on August 1 should be fascinating.