Andreas Scholl: The Renaissance Muse, Barbican, London

As foreplay to Valentine's Day, this somewhat contrived confection was at least timely. But as a way of melding Renaissance song and poetry so that one might complement and illuminate the other, it failed on almost every count to rise to the occasion.

It is a sign of the times that we are constantly seeking new ways of packaging and selling art, so we might illustrate that which is best left to the imagination. It could be argued that an artist like Andreas Scholl has more reason than most to do so: the counter-tenor's repertoire is trickier to programme with imagination and panache - and that was plainly the thinking here. Besides, he had a new album of Renaissance lute songs (A Musical Banquet) to sell, and where there's a new album there's invariably an "event" to go with it.

This one was launched in New York and is credited to the Broadway stage director Mark Lamos. But it was Scholl's idea to juxtapose poetry and song in such a way as to lend dramatic context to the latter. Why? These songs of love and pain and the whole damn thing (many by the great English practitioner John Dowland) are tiny dramatic chronicles in themselves. They tell us stories; they move us with their wit, pathos and candour. And they are entirely self-sufficient.

When Scholl sings them, the unaffected beauty of his timbre is sufficient to transports us utterly. We have no need of a stage "set", of carpets, cushions and books of verse. And we have no need of an "addressee". To make flesh of the object of our poet's desires, affections and scorn is to dictate how we see her. Pretty though the American actress Laila Robins is, to see her is to rob us of the mystery. And even if her verse-speaking was better (and less transatlantic) it would not complement - indeed, it too often intrudes upon - the mood of the songs.

When Scholl sang Dowland's "In Darkness Let Me Dwell", any light was inappropriate. The keening distress of the vocal line, broken only once by "hellish, jarring sounds", was solitude incarnate. At the close we wanted, needed, a moment or two of total silence and darkness. But in burst our feminine muse to shatter the atmosphere with more flouncing fancy. Something about nymphs and shepherds, I believe.

So you'll have gathered that Scholl, with his wonderful lutanist and guitarist Crawford Young, would more than have sufficed. These songs don't make for huge variations in tone, but the wonderful thing about Scholl's voice is that it's a true and exquisite male alto; not the more plumped-up womanly variety of counter-tenor.

There was humour, too, and the last number almost made the journey to the Barbican worthwhile. The sad tale of "Lord Randall", the jilted lovesick boy repeatedly begging his mother to make up his deathbed. What might he leave his lover? "A rope to hang herself." Now there's a thought.

Arts and Entertainment

Film Leonardo DiCaprio hunts Tom Hardy

Arts and Entertainment
And now for something completely different: the ‘Sin City’ episode of ‘Casualty’
TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

    US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

    Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
    VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

    'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

    VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
    Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

    Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
    The male menopause and intimations of mortality

    Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

    So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
    Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

    'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

    Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
    Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

    Bettany Hughes interview

    The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
    Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

    Art of the state

    Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
    Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

    Vegetarian food gets a makeover

    Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks
    The haunting of Shirley Jackson: Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?

    The haunting of Shirley Jackson

    Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?
    Bill Granger recipes: Heading off on holiday? Try out our chef's seaside-inspired dishes...

    Bill Granger's seaside-inspired recipes

    These dishes are so easy to make, our chef is almost embarrassed to call them recipes
    Ashes 2015: Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

    Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

    A woefully out-of-form Michael Clarke embodies his team's fragile Ashes campaign, says Michael Calvin
    Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

    Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

    Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
    HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

    The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

    Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
    Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

    'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

    Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
    Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

    The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

    Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen