Bryn Terfel, Royal Albert Hall, London

Click to follow
The Independent Culture

Big man, big voice; big personality, big musician. "You know, they've really come to hear us," a member of the London Welsh Male Voice Choir had quipped to him below stage. Terfel relays it to us all. He can turn a barb aimed at him into a PR triumph and even see off a cheery heckler; that's the measure of the man. Slightly headmasterly, he has something of the Lloyd George magic.

And we are treated to the full Welsh experience. My neighbour played rugby at Dyffryn Nantlle Secondary with the great man; Silver Star Coaches had brought the Bryn fan club from Gwynedd en masse. As is his wont, he also gives a platform to others. Rhys Meirion is a singer, Bryn reminds us, with a great future. He's actually made it already - as Tebaldo in Bellini's Capulets and Montagues for the ENO. In the future he has Tamino and Ernani lined up for them: there's a lovely poignancy to the voice although it may remain just a voice with a future if he soups it up the way he did with Salvatore Cardillo's "Cor 'ngrato". When Meirion produces a pure, unaffected tone - as in the "Myfanwy" encore - he's heaven.

Enter, too, Catrin Finch - introduced to the harp by Elinor Bennett (wife of Plaid Cymru's Dafydd Wigley) - now, a mere 23, Royal Harpist to The Prince of Wales (there hasn't been one since Queen Victoria's time). A royal tone, too: her "Prelude Asturias" from Albeniz's Cantos de España has fantastic attack and dynamic range, and the "Sun Dance" from William Mathias's Santa Fe Suite recalls just what a major composer we lost when this great Welshman died in his fifties in 1992. Incidentally, Mathias also composed an opera, The Servants, based on Iris Murdoch's play The Servants and the Snow.

The two great hymns in Maxwell Davies's The Doctor of Myddfai reveal just how effective Welsh is when sung. I spot two Welsh dragons and one colourful plastic daffodil in the hall; but in the main it's the audience's roars of approval that show that the Albert Hall has been declared Welsh Territory for a day. "When I heard José Carreras and Hayley Westenra were here tomorrow night," Terfel chimes, "I got quite worried." He needn't be: there's not a seat to be had.

True, there are a few cheesy choices amid the gems. Sinfonia Cymru under the baton of WNO's Gareth Jones overrides some pathetic amplification to give punchy readings of Verdi's La Forza del Destino overture and Richard Rodgers's "Carousel waltz".

Terfel delivers some super-blistering Rodrigo ("En Aranjuez") and Bizet ("Votre toast je peux vous le rendre", from Carmen). There's a generosity in the voice; not only is every word crystal clear, but there's a rich mixture of back and forward and centre-placed vowels that heighten the frisson of everything he sings. During the folk tune "Shenandoah" and "Suo-Gan" (aka the theme of Spielberg's Empire of the Sun) we're rapt.

Comments