My Favourite Things: an evening to treasure from Louise Alder, Ben Bliss and James Baillieu

United KingdomUnited Kingdom My Favourite Things: Louise Alder (soprano), Ben Bliss (tenor) and James Baillieu (piano). Wigmore Hall, London, 2.6.2024. (KMcD)

Louise Alder (soprano), Ben Bliss (tenor) and James Baillieu (piano)

There has been a notable shift away from what might be called ‘classical programming’ to one that encompasses a far more eclectic choice of repertoire at Wigmore Hall of late. Rising star, countertenor, Hugh Cutting, included a couple of John Denver items in his sensational lunchtime recital in May, whilst in 2023 mezzo-soprano Alice Coote presented her Rebellious Recital, which I reported on here. Once upon a time ‘crossover’ artists were frowned upon, but thankfully these days some of the greatest classical singers are not afraid to break down barriers and sing what they like singing.

Soprano Louise Alder, and tenor Ben Bliss are a case in point. For their musical foray down the myriad paths and pitfalls of love, they chose 24 numbers – some solos, some duets – that encapsulated a wide range of musical styles, yet all tied nicely into the overarching theme of ‘My Favourite Things’. Separated into sections, each with a different title that acted as emotional signposts to the songs contained in each one, both artists revelled in the contrasting styles from composers as diverse as Berg, Britten and Gershwin, via Ray Charles, Wolf and Satie. Can fin-de-siècle Vienna and Broadway ever have been such convivial bedfellows?

Alder began the journey with a perfectly-poised, rapt rendition of Berg’s Nacht from 7 frühe Lieder, her glistening soprano filling out Berg’s soaring phrases to perfection, before Bliss enchanted with a gloriously evocative performance of Richard Strauss’s Heimliche Aufforderung (Secret Invitation). He possesses a firm, exceptionally well-schooled tenor, suffused with a diamante quality. He phrased and enunciated the text with exemplary care and wasn’t afraid to let his lyrical voice of the leash at the song’s climax.

Given the wide-ranging choice of repertoire, there was room for plenty of humour as well. Alder brought a healthy dose of sarcastic wit to Schoenberg’s Mahnung (Warning) from Brettl-Lieder – not afraid to use some chest voice to get across the sarcasm in the text, whilst Bliss’s wordless, impersonation of a trumpet, did full justice to Satie’s Petit recueil des fêtes from his Enfant-martyre. Both artists caught the right tone for an ebullient take on Richard Rodgers’s People Will Say We’re in Love (Oklahoma), with Alder going on to captivate the audience with a delicious version of My Favourite Things (The Sound of Music), allowing this evergreen song to come across with a freshness and spontaneity.

Alder found half-lights and displayed a myriad of vocal colours in a languid rendition of Debussy’s Le jet d’eau (The fountain) that transported the audience to a realm of tranquillity, before Bliss lulled us to the world of dreams in Ravel’s exquisite, Chanson des cueilleuses de lentisques (Song of the lentisk gatherers). We were even treated to a bit of waltz during Berlin’s Isn’t this a lovely day, before Bliss brought the house down with a spine-tingling performance of Ray Charles’s Hallelujah I Love Her So. Here, Bliss was in his element, easily at home with the jazz idiom. Whilst some classically-trained tenors find the transition to non-operatic repertoire problematic, this seemed like second nature to Bliss, his tone free, his singing on point.

After the interval Bridge and Britten dominated the first section of the second half, with Alder giving a dramatic and fiery interpretation of Love went a-riding, later revelling in the absurdity and comedy of Tell me the Truth about Love, whilst Bliss drew out the gentle, lilting nature of The last rose of summer.

It was back to Broadway for an energetic duet, Kern’s I Won’t Dance, before Bliss won over all hearts with a vigorous Oh, Lady be Good (Gershwin). There was a change in mood with Strauss’s Befreit (Released) which Alder sang with innate rapture and resignation, before the evening concluded with more Rodgers and a scintillating performance of Hart’s Where or When (Babes in Arms).

Throughout, accompanist James Baillieu caught every shifting mood to perfection, ably supporting both singers, who were clearly having a ball – their exuberance was infectious, as evidenced by the smiles on the faces of the departing audience. This was an evening to treasure, where the gamble of choosing such eclectic songs more than paid off.

Keith McDonnell

Berg – 7 frühe Lieder: Nacht
R. Strauss – Heimliche Aufforderung, Op.27 No.3
Schoenberg – Brettl-Lieder: Mahnung
Satie – Petit recueil des fêtes: Enfant-martyre
Gershwin – Oh, Kay!: Someone To Watch Over Me
RodgersOklahoma!: People Will Say We’re in Love

Madness in Love
Satie – Daphénéo
Wolf – Italienisches Liederbuch: Mein Liebster ist so klein
Satie – Le chapelier
Rodgers – The Sound of Music: My Favourite Things

Debussy – 5 poèmes de Baudelaire: Le jet d’eau
Ravel – 5 mélodies populaires grecques: Chanson des cueilleuses de lentisques
Berg – 7 frühe Lieder: Liebesode
Berlin – Isn’t this a lovely day?
Ray Charles – Hallelujah I Love Her So

Bridge – Love went a-riding
Britten – The last rose of summer; Cabaret songs: Tell me the Truth about Love
Rodgers – Ever Green: Dancing on the Ceiling
Kern – I Won’t Dance
Gershwin – Lady, Be Good: Oh, Lady be Good!

R. Strauss – Befreit, Op.39 No.4
Matt Dennis – The Night We Called It a Day

Gershwin – Shall We Dance?: They Can’t Take That Away From Me
Rodgers – He was too good to me; The Sound of Music: Something Good; Babes in Arms: Where or When

Leave a Comment