Live review Andreas Scholl Purcell Room, London

'In Dowland, Scholl's breath-control was simply sensational...'

Delightfully outrageous as it is, and it really is, The Three Counter-Tenors CD that features the young German Andreas Scholl as one of the infamous trio might easily have back-fired on him: singing Carmen's Habanera could confuse the cognoscenti. But William Christie, Rene Jacobs and John Eliot Gardiner can't all be wrong and they have all taken him very seriously, with serious recordings to boot. Scholl came to London on Wednesday as a hot property and, in his debut recital of English and German secular music, this 26-year-old had a packed Purcell Room eating out of his hands.

A thoughtfully planned programme grouped some of England's greatest and best-known vocal works with rare music of the German baroque and Handel, even if Handel in his Italian mode can't really be claimed as English or German. Audaciously, Scholl brought Dowland's "Flow My Tears", Purcell's "Musick for a While" and "Sweeter than Roses", but this is, of course, the greatest music written for his voice-range.

Beginning with Dowland, Scholl quickly demonstrated his natural ease, standing confidently still, a limpid sound, beautifully phrased, with vibrato used sparingly. Here is a musician of obvious intelligence whose voice, for one so young, is marvellously developed, pure and full, reminiscent of the young Alfred Deller, but with not a sign of any "hooting". In Dowland's "Can She Excuse My Wrongs", his breath-control was simply sensational, while in "Flow My Tears" not a sign of strain showed in the upper reaches (despite an announced cold). "Musick for a While", perhaps Purcell's greatest song, was heaven-on-legs as Scholl effortlessly glanced the high notes, bringing a mixture of urgency and simplicity to this ache-ingly beautiful work.

By contrast, the German Baroque songs of Johann Nauwach, Heinrich Albert and Johann Krieger seemed musically square and harmonically staid, even if Adam Krieger's "Der Liebe macht herrscht Tag und Nacht" stood out as a dark and despairing forerunner to Schubert's like-minded lieder.

All the music after the interval was by Handel. His cantata Vedendo amor, with its mix of recitative and aria, revealed Scholl as a natural storyteller, warmly drawing in his audience in an engagingly unaffected way. In arias from Alcina and Rinaldo, I can't recall hearing a counter-tenor whose ease of delivery and technical command made one forget how unnatural this voice really is. If there is any weakness, it's in the lower register, but with such purity of tone and such dazzling articulation, who's quibbling?

Richard Egarr had the unenviable task of accompanying Scholl at the harpsichord - unenviable because talent such as Scholl's can only reveal weakness by comparison. Egarr, in solo works by Byrd (The Bells from the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book), Purcell's Suite in G minor and Handel's Suite in E major (with the "Harmonious Blacksmith" variations), seemed short on musical imagination but more supple at least than in his role as accompanist. Scholl's forthcoming Proms performance in Bach's Magnificat must be a must.

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