An Impressive, Wide-Ranging Recital by Paul Appleby and Malcolm Martineau

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Franz Paul Lachner, Schumann, Wolf, Bridge, Berlioz, Villa-Lobos:  Paul Appleby (tenor), Malcolm Martineau (piano), Wigmore Hall, London, 4.3.2016. (RB)

Lachner:  Das Fischermädchen

Schumann:  Liederkreis Op 24

Wolf:  Das Ständchen; Heimweh; In der Fremde VI; Seemanns Abschied

Bridge:  Go not, happy day; Goldenhair; When you are old and gray; Love went a-riding

Berlioz:  Three songs from Les nuits d’été

Villa-Lobos Canção do poeta do século XVIII; Evocação; Samba clássico

This concert formed part of the Wigmore Hall’s Emerging Talent programme and this time American tenor, Paul Appleby, was in the spotlight.  Appleby appeared in last year’s Glyndebourne Festival in Handel’s Saul and he is set to return this year as Bénédict in Berlioz’s Béatrice et Bénédict.  He was joined by one of the elder statesmen of piano accompaniment, Malcolm Martineau.

Appleby proved to be an extremely impressive performer throughout the evening both in terms of his vocal prowess and his acting abilities.  He has a sweet, lyrical tenor voice but he is also capable of producing enormous vocal power and he has a wide and well differentiated dynamic range.  I overheard one of the audience members saying “he is quite a find” and I have to say I agree.

The recital opened with Franz Paul Lachner’s Das Fischermädchen which the composer wrote in the early 1830’s.  Lachner was at one time a close friend of Schubert and the song is an alternative to Schubert’s more famous version in Schwanengesang.  Martineau brought a silky smoothness to the piano part while Appleby imparted sweet lyricism and sensitivity to the vocal line.

From Lachner we moved to Schumann’s Liederkreis Op 24 which the composer wrote in 1840.  The cycle was one of the earliest compositions from Schumann’s famous year of song immediately after his marriage to Clara Wieck.  The Heine poems which Schumann chose for the set deal with issues of unrequited love and some rage against the coldness of women.  There were a few very minor balance issues at the start of the performance as Appleby’s dynamic shadings were not always matched by Martineau but these were quickly resolved.  Martineau injected a manic energy into Es triebt mich hin while Appleby gave us very clearly enunciated words.  Both performers conveyed well the composer’s startling shifts in mood.  Appleby gave a rapt and unforgettable performance of Ich wandelte unter den Bäumen.  He sustained the line beautifully and brought a rich vocal colouring to some of the words and an expressive resonance to the high notes.  Schöne Wiege meiner Leiden is one of my favourite Schumann songs and once again Appleby gave a gorgeous performance.  The sense of sorrow and heartache was conveyed beautifully while Schumann’s mercurial outbursts were perfectly realised in the third and penultimate stanzas.  Martineau’s lyrical and expressive postlude showed why he considered by many to be one of the world’s leading accompanists.  Warte, warte wilder Schiffmann was bracing and powerful while both performers brought a wonderful sense of intimacy and heartache to Berg’ und Burgen schau’n herunter.  Occasionally, Appleby overemphasised some of the consonants which made him sound a little self-conscious but this is a minor quibble.  There was an engaging sense of dialogue between the performers in Mit Myrthen und Rosen and Appleby’s showed a strong feeling for the words.  I wondered if they might have allowed a little more space for reflection in the final two stanzas of the song.

From Schumann we moved Wolf’s earliest Eichindorff lieder in settings which are familiar to us from Schumann’s Op 39 Liederkreis.  Wolf is often seen as a more natural heir to Schumann than Brahms when it comes to lieder, given that the songs of both composers reflect their literary interests and their emotional volatility.  Martineau did a great job conjuring up the lute accompaniment in Das Ständchen while Appleby captured the emotional ambiguity at the heart of the song – the final stanza radiated a smile through tears as the old man of the song watched his younger self serenading his lover.  Appleby injected a sense of gentle melancholy into the opening stanzas of Heimweh against Martineau’s lapping piano accompaniment.  The song of the nightingale in the penultimate stanza had an ecstatic quality while the final stanza ended with a climatic affirmation of nationalism and belonging.  I found the performance of In der Fremde VI less convincing – the drift of the clouds was conveyed nicely in the opening stanza but I felt the performers were not completely at ease with the continual harmonic shifts and the material could perhaps have been shaped more effectively.  Appleby and Martineau ended the first half of the recital in style with an incendiary performance of Seemanns Abschied.  The song crackled with energy and Appleby delivered a vocal tour de force while showing us his consummate acting skills.

In the second half the focus shifted from the Austro-German school to Britain, France and Brazil.  The opening four songs by Frank Bridge date from the early decades of the 20th Century and are in part influenced by Stanford.  Bridge’s most famous pupil, Benjamin Britten, and his partner Peter Pears were early advocates of the songs.  Go not, happy day had an ease and fluency and the sense of bright Victorian optimism shone through.  Martineau produced beautifully shaped and clear running piano figurations.  Appleby offered some sensual phrasing in Goldenhair which Martineau embroidered with opulent harmonies and rich textures.  Both performers did an excellent job depicting the atmospheric scene in When you are old and gray before they shifted to heroic mode for the final song of the set, Love went a-riding.

The Berlioz selection from Les Nuits d’été began with Villanelle which depicts young lovers enjoying the coming of Spring.  Appleby brought out the charm of the vocal line and captured the innocence and sense of sunny optimism well.  The sepulchral shades of Au cimitière were conveyed well:  Appleby brought a sense of angst to the vocal line and I loved the extraordinary shift in tonal colour which he and Martineau brought to the fourth stanza.  Appleby showed enormous dramatic flair in the final song of the set, L’ile inconnue, while Martineau provided a supple and responsive accompaniment.

The recital concluded with three songs by Villa-Lobos which were composed towards the middle of the 20th Century.  Appleby brought warmth and sensuality to the vocal line in Canção do poeta do século XVIII and the evocation of the moonlit street in Rio was brought vividly to life.  Evocação had a sweltering eroticism and I was struck by the Italiante quality of Appleby’s singing which somehow seemed ideally suited to this repertoire.  The recital ended with a throbbing and pulsating account of   Samba clássico.  Martineau could have delineated the samba rhythms more clearly (the opening section in particular did not sound like a samba) although I enjoyed Appleby’s handling of the vocal line and the final climax ended the recital on a triumphant note.

Appleby and Martineau performed two encores:  Schubert’s version of Das Fischermädchen and Litany by American composer, John Musto.  Overall, this was an excellent recital and Appleby is clearly a terrific performer and a name to watch out for in future.

Robert Beattie 

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