Theatre: Bryn, glorious Bryn

Bryn Terfel Wigmore Hall, London W1

Last Friday at the Wigmore Hall, the cheering started before a note was heard. Bryn Terfel has that kind of following, and it's not hard to see why. He's the boyo next door, mischievous but with a heart of gold and a voice to match. Although Terfel is only (only!) a bass-baritone, the bottom of the voice seems to erupt from the bowels of the inferno. If the head-voice is just occasionally less convincing, Terfel has a remarkable palette of emotion at his disposal, from savage vehemence to an awed whisper. He's matched at every turn by his accompanist, Malcolm Martineau, a long- time collaborator whose inwardness is a perfect foil to Terfel's ebullience.

The choice of repertoire perhaps brought out too much bluff geniality, too little melancholy, but as Terfel sometimes overplays the darker emotions, this was no bad thing. Nevertheless a second half comprising Gerald Finzi's Shakespearean "Let Us Garlands Bring", and Meirion Williams' Welsh-language cycle "Adelwych", seemed less serious than a first half culminating in Brahms' "Four Serious Songs".

Of course Terfel was making points: that there is a worthwhile British lieder tradition, that Welsh is a beautifully musical language, exemplified than in Williams' "Yr Hwyr" (Evening). Still there was something cheery and beery in "Y Cymro" (The Welshman), and a trace of the drawing-room balladeer in Finzi's "Who Is Silvia?" That contrasted tellingly with the evening's second item, Schubert's German setting of the same song, Terfel's tone softening with an almost erotic shudder for the opening line, later filling out cavernously in contemplation of Silvia's beauty.

It was in Brahms that we got the best of Terfel, roaring lion-like in "O Tod" (O Death) at the realisation that oblivion is the best any of us can hope for; then, poignantly, finding a note of resigned good humour with which to thank death for its services. Verdi's Falstaff is in the singer's plans, and that comi-tragic figure is Terfel to the life.

With Terfel, the serious always has to be balanced: and, if you count his encores, perhaps swept aside. For Terfel, they offer a chance to let the hair down, here leading the audience through the choruses of "Mud, Mud, Glorious Mud". Whatever next. Sing-a-long-a-Schubert? I wouldn't put it past him.

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