India Various composers: Benjamin Appl (baritone), Simon Lepper (piano), Experimental Theatre, National Centre for the Performing Arts (NCPA), Mumbai, 18.2.2018. (JSM)
Schumann – ‘Widmung’; ‘Du bist wie eine Blume’
Britten – ‘The Foggy, Foggy Dew’
Poulenc – ‘L’offrande’; ‘La maîtresse volage’
Hahn – ‘À Chloris’
Grieg – ‘Lauf der Welt’; ‘Zur Rosenzeit’; ‘Ein Traum’
R. Strauss – ‘Geduld’; ‘Morgen’; ‘Allerseelen’
Mendelssohn – ‘Auf Flügeln des Gesanges’
Schubert – ‘Seligkeit’, ‘Ständchen’; ‘Erlkönig’; ‘Der Tod und das Mädchen’; ‘Die Taubenpost’; ‘Wandrers Nachtlied II’ (encore)
Britten – ‘The Salley Gardens’
Wolf – ‘Hoffärtig seid ihr schönes Kind’; ‘Wir haben beide Zeit geschweigen Begegnung’; ‘An die Geliebte’
Brahms – ‘Sonntag’; ‘Wiegenlied’
Strauss – ‘Du meines Herzens Krönelein’
Vaughan Williams – ‘Silent Noon’
Loewe – ‘Süßes Begräbnis’
This Sunday afternoon recital in Mumbai by the young German baritone Benjamin Appl was a potpourri of songs in three languages and in widely differing styles by various composers. These were loosely strung together with the unifying concept of depicting a tragic love story, or so we were told, but the idea was stretched too thin to be convincing. However, the sequence of songs, particularly in the programme’s second half, did not present too many musical jolts since most consecutive selections seemed matched in key, if not in kind. They were interspersed with explanations given by the singer, though mercifully these interruptions were few and not cloying.
The recital began with Schumann’s ‘Widmung’, and this immediately presented the singer’s strengths and weaknesses. There was an innate musicality in everything he did, aided by prodigious breath-control and a wonderful sense of legato, which was also used to great effect later in Mendelssohn’s ‘Auf Flügeln des Gesanges’. He did seem to have some difficulty in songs with a very low tessitura and, more often than not, his softer tones had insufficient breath-support and thus lacked a certain roundness (in Brahms’ ‘Wiegenlied’, for instance). However, dynamic markings of mezzo forte and above found him singing with clarion voice and flawless attack.
Herr Appl excelled in expression. There was no doubt that he understood and felt the songs deeply, and he spared no effort in conveying this to the audience. One might say that he did, on occasion, over-interpret the songs, but never self-consciously: better a little too much than too little. A prime example of this was Schubert’s ‘Ständchen’, which began with the singer taking expressive liberties with line and rhythm but ended with an unforgettable ‘beglücke mich’.
The concert’s highlights included ‘Geduld’ and ‘Morgen’ by Richard Strauss, the former sung with vivid word-painting, the latter floated magically with iridescent accompaniment by Simon Lepper. ‘Erlkönig’ was given a powerhouse performance, the four voices clearly demarcated, with perhaps the most thrilling rendition of the words ‘so brauch’ ich Gewalt’ that this critic has ever heard. However, Mr. Lepper was too loud in the early part of this song, nearly drowning out the singer (the piano was wide-open throughout the recital), though elsewhere he was unfailingly sensitive and ideally supportive.
On the whole, it was a marvellous recital and a Sunday afternoon well-spent. However, one wishes the organisers (the National Centre for the Performing Arts in Mumbai) had presented a more consistent and better arranged programme, rather than this mishmash – especially since the audience would applaud after each song, until the singer politely requested them not to.
Jiten S. Merchant