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S & H Special Event Review

British and American Folk Songs : Andreas Scholl, Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, Karl-Ernst Schroeder, The Dorchester Hotel, 25th October 2001. (M.E.)



I first heard Scholl perform folk songs at the Wigmore Hall, and was entranced by the way these simple melodies and timeless lyrics displayed the wonders of his voice; he was then accompanied only on the lute, but when I heard him sing three traditional ballads with a full orchestral accompaniment on a sample disc, my reaction was not quite so ecstatic. I asked myself, why import swooping strings and flickering flutes to a song like "Wild Mountain Thyme," when it can stand by itself with just the voice alone? Frankly, the sweetly swooning orchestration makes you expect a succulent voice to unctuously utter words such as "Scholl. He makes your hair shiny all over and your skin tingle with delight."

So, I turned up at the Dorchester all ready to sneer, and got my cutting asides even readier when dear Natalie Wheen, obviously having imbibed a bit too much of the excellent champagne with which we had all been plied with for the previous hour, introduced the star with remarks about how "great

aunt Ethel" would certainly never listen to "A Musicall Banquet," but would be sure to coo with delight over the present offering, as well as the not exactly welcome intelligence that the disc was to be hyped to the max on Classic FM, with Henry Kelly featuring it daily - plus a positively embarrassing display of gush in which she informed us that she was in love with Scholl no fewer than five times, and that she'd fight any of us for him. After you with the epee, Natalie.

However, once our boy began to sing, things changed. I could suddenly see how putting this voice together with what can only be called "easy-listening-style" orchestrations, might well achieve two laudable aims. Firstly, it could very well bring this wondrous voice to the attention of a wholly different public to the one which presently adores him, and secondly, it might introduce these vernacular treasures to an audience at present virtually ignorant of them. As always, these effects would have spin - offs, in that listeners enthralled by Scholl's voice might well go on to enquire about other areas of Scholl's repertoire, or perhaps to experience the singing of other countertenors; they'd be disappointed in most of the latter by comparison, of course, but you get the idea.

The debate about "dumbing - down" in so many areas of cultural and national experience still has plenty of life in it, but although wild horses could not drag me to listen to Classic FM on a regular basis, I welcome anything which brings great music and performers to a wider audience, and the present disc may well do just that. Why? Simply because of the glory of this voice and the complete seriousness with which the singer approaches this music; there are few if any others who could get away with it, but he does, and does so triumphantly.

This short recital found him in superlative voice, especially for "Charming Beauty Bright," "She Moved Through the Fair," and "Annie Laurie." The first of these, like so many others, originated in the British Isles and came to the Appalachians with early settlers, and you could trace its lineage in the lively melody and colloquial utterances; Scholl blended his voice superbly with the dancing violins at "do you think of any reason or right to complain?" and sang the touching "Then it struck me like a lamb, like a lamb that was slain" with perfect simplicity and directness. Indeed, it was those two qualities which stood out in all his singing; few voices or singers can be as sophisticated as he is, yet he gave these pieces their full due without any affectation.

"She Moved Through the Fair" was accompanied only on the lute and harp, and what a joy it was to hear Karl-Ernst Schroeder again; on the CD, his part is taken with equal mastery by Edin Karamazov. Scholl's singing of this classic ghost/love story is perfection; phrases shaped with such melting beauty that they bring tears to your eyes, and silences which make the heart contract - after "like the swan in the evening moves over the lake," the stillness in the room, filled mostly with cynical hacks, was thick with emotion - and it wasn't just champagne-induced.

"Annie Laurie" had a similarly sparse accompaniment, and was for me the highlight of the performance, as it is of the disc. If anyone wants an example of just how utterly entrancing, how completely enrapturing the human voice can be, they should turn to this. It was irrelevant that Scholl did not attempt a Lowland Scots accent for this beautiful ballad, since he made the touching sentiments as universal as anything in Schubert. It's sentimental stuff, of course, but with the stamp upon it of genuine feeling, and the way in which Scholl sang lines such as "her face it is the fairest, that ever sun shone on" bore the mark of true commitment. He subtly varied both his intonation and tempo at "Her voice is low and sweet" in accordance with the sentiment expressed, in such a way as to make you feel that time had stood still. Even those who generally scoff at such lines as "and for bonnie Annie Laurie, I'd lay me doon and dee," might get a tear in their 'ee after this performance.

Will it sell? Of course it will; Scholl could make a successful disc of a reading of Hansard, and it will sell not only to his devoted admirers, of which I am certainly one, but also to another, larger constituency of which I also form a part, and that is the "immensely over-educated," to borrow Wilde's phrase, who would not normally give rack - room to a disc of sentimental ballads. And, yes, it goes without saying that Classic FM's audience, too, will lap it up, orchestration and all; the orchestra, incidentally, is extremely good, with playing that almost convinces you that "Wild Mountain Thyme" can benefit from the addition of shudderingly romantic strings. What it does indisputably benefit from, is singing of a kind which makes you glad to be alive - "Oh, the summer time is coming, and the trees are sweetly blooming, and the wild mountain thyme grows around the purple heather. Will you go, Lassie, go?" Simple sentiments, but sung with such irresistible grace. Scholl's Wigmore Hall recitals of this very music, on December 18th and 20th are of course already sold out, but I advise selling your family silver to obtain a returned ticket.

Melanie Eskenazi

Details of the disc are as follows:

Title: Wayfaring Stranger - folksongs Artists: Andreas Scholl/Edin Karamazov, Orpheus Chamber Orchestra Catalogue number: 468499 Label: Decca

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