Classical Music: Heine settings Bo Skovhus (baritone)

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The Independent Culture
At the end of his recital on Wednesday, the young Danish baritone Bo Skovhus announced his first encore, and spoke for the first time in the evening. It was rather a pleasant surprise, for his voice was rich, resonant and warm. His singing voice was different - harder and colder, with a strong metallic ring. No doubt that serves him well in his flourishing international operatic career, but it limited his range of expression in a programme of Heine settings ranging from Schubert to Zemlinsky. Six songs by Brahms left the feeling that we had somehow been excluded from the warmth and intimacy of the composer's feelings, and there was certainly not much suppleness in the melodic lines. Four songs by the 19th-century Dane, Peter Erasmus Lange-Muller, were very charming and tuneful, perhaps more superficial, and so you felt less missing. But Skovhus came into his own more satisfyingly in the once-upon-a-time narrative of Zemlinsky's Es war ein alter Konig. He also sang Grieg's much earlier setting of the same poem, which caught Heine's childlike simplicity without its countervailing irony. What really brought out Skovhus's strength, though, were Grieg's impulsive Horer jeg sangen klinge (When I hear the song), with its stormy accompaniment, strongly played by Helmut Deutsch, and similarly moody Wo sind sie hin?, with its surprisingly substantial piano postlude.

Some male singers, but very few, draw you into the heart of a song so that you experience its meaning and forget its production; others keep you aware of how they are presenting it. Skovhus is the second type - a "manly" singer, with very striking good looks that nobody need hold against him. In Schumann's Liederkreis, Op 24, the more demonstrative songs, Es treibt mich hin and Warte, warte, wilder Schiffsmann, were absolutely convincing. Yet there was little sense of a personal confession when it came to the death-wish of the final song.

Still, the six Heine settings from Schubert's Schwanengesang gave Skovhus a chance to draw on some of the weapons in his operatic armoury, sobbing convincingly, but musically, on the last line of Die Stadt, and taking the guts out of his tone picturesquely with the final words of Der Doppelganger. Occasional histrionics are all very well, but he still needs to show more sensitivity to less dramatic shades of expression.

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