During the Festival, solo song recitals are usually confined to the intimate surrounding of the Queen’s Hall. But not so tonight, in this song recital by Welsh bass baritone, Bryn Terfel, accompanied by Edinburgh-born pianist, Malcolm Martineau. Terfel is used to singing big operatic roles (he sang Wotan in the Festival’s performance of Wagner’s Die Walküre three days ago), and his powerful voice is used to dominating over a large orchestra, so filling the Usher Hall on his own is not be a problem for him, in this recital comprising mostly German lieder and British twentieth-century song.
Terfel is a natural communicator, and this is demonstrated in his first half—lieder by Schubert and Brahms. Schubert was arguably one of the greatest song composers of the nineteenth century, and Terfel chooses to sing songs around a watery theme. Of these, Die Forelle (The Trout) is justly famous, and Terfel’s characterisation is spot on with a touch of humour; the others are delivered splendidly too.
He follows with Brahms’ Four Serious Songs, a late work that inhabits a much darker world. The songs were written in the composer’s last year of life, and are very much focussed on the subject of death; all the texts are from the bible. The rich, dark qualities of Terfel’s voice are exploited to add to the gravity of Brahms’ music, and his performance is quite superb.
The second half is more lightweight, starting with the Quatre chansons de Don Quichotte by the eccentric French composer, Jacques Ibert. Originally written for a film by Georg Pabst, these songs are extraordinary. They have wonderful accompaniments, featuring much faux-Spanish influence. These are played masterfully by Martineau, and the songs are sung with great humour by Terfel.
Terfel can certainly communicate and entertain, and the rest of the programme is given over to songs of his Welsh homeland, including three songs from great, early-century composers that Terfel clearly identifies with (all sung Welsh).
A medley of Welsh folk songs by Bryan Davies, who was a friend of Terfel’s, is a clever one, with plenty of well-known favourites. He ends with a four-song tribute to the famous Welsh singer John Charles Thomas by various composers, including Home on the Range, during which the audience in encouraged to join in the refrain: highly enjoyable! Three encores follow, ending with If I Were a Rich Man from Fiddler on the Roof, and Terfel gives it the full Jewish shtick, with many voice contrasts and much talking: huge fun, highly entertaining and shows what a supremely characterful and versatile musician Terfel is.
All of this is superbly accompanied by Martineau. A wonderful night all round.