To the best of my recollection I’ve not previously heard
the baritone William Berger and this may be his solo debut disc.
However, you’ll find him as one of the soloists on Ludus
Baroque’s 2010 recording of Handel’s Alexander’s
This present disc preserves a recital programme that he devised
for the 2011 Lucerne Festival. As Richard Stokes tells us in
his excellent notes, the programme describes “a sleepless
night experienced by a man who reflects on his love for an unnamed
woman.” As Stokes comments, it’s never made clear
whether the woman in question is alive, dead - or only exists
in the man’s dreams. The programme, laced with good helpings
of Fauré and Wolf - and none the worse for that - is
imaginatively and discerningly put together. The songs are grouped
round various times in the evening and night, which I’ve
deliberately included in the track-listing.
Berger impresses from the outset with a firm, well focused baritone.
He sets his stall out in Mozart’s Abendempfindung,
which he delivers with a lovely, easy legato. The voice is evenly
produced throughout its compass; diction is clear; the texts
are put across with intelligence and understanding; and the
tone is warm and unforced. In a sense I could leave it there
since these prove to be the hallmarks of Berger’s singing
throughout the programme. To do so, however, would be unfair,
not least to the singer, whose performances I greatly enjoyed.
He proves to be very good in Fauré. His vocal timbre
sounds authentically Gallic in Claire de lune
and I also enjoyed his performance of Mandoline very
much. He also impresses in English song. He is able to produce,
in Richard Stokes’ phrase, the necessary “peerless
legato” in Warlock’s atmospheric song and I was
delighted to find him selecting pieces by Vaughan Williams and
Richard Rodney Bennett that aren’t exactly common currency
in the recital room. On this evidence I’d very much like
to hear him again in English song.
Hugo Wolf’s hypnotic Um Mitternacht is very well
done. Berger and Burnside convey the brooding ambience and this
is one of many items in which Berger’s legato and fine
sense of line pay dividends. Oh! quand je dors is a delight.
Berger deploys a wonderful mezza voce at times, such
as the end of the second stanza and the last line of all, hushed
and intense, is most sensitively done. Morgen! seems
to have been appropriated by female singers but there’s
absolutely no reason why a man shouldn’t sing it. Berger
excels here, giving a rapt performance; the wonderfully withdrawn
delivery of the last line is particularly admirable.
Iain Burnside is a fine accompanist, adept at switching from
one style to another and supporting his singer admirably yet
not to the detriment of his own musical personality. Only once
did I have any doubts. His playing seems rather forceful in
Schubert’s Auf der Bruck. Of course, there must
be urgency but Burnside seems a bit forceful and the tone hardens
as a result. To find a quick comparison I took down the 1994
Schubert recital disc by Bryn Terfel and Malcolm Martineau (DG).
It seems to me that Martineau’s playing, while urgent,
is not as driven as Burnside’s - or maybe the piano was
recorded with a bit more distance by DG. In the interests of
balance, however, I should say that I preferred the pacing in
this Berger/Burnside recording: they are slightly more measured
- though by no means slow - and by comparison Terfel and Martineau
sound a bit rushed.
This is a fine recital, which I enjoyed very much. Careful thought
has gone into the programme building and the execution of the
programme is consistently excellent. The recorded sound is up
to Delphian’s usual high standards, as is the documentation
though I am disappointed that most of the English translations
are printed below the original texts: a side-by-side presentation
is much easier to follow. The playing time may seem on the short
side but on this occasion I think one can overlook this since
the disc preserves the integrity of the original recital programme.
In any case, this is an instance where quality is much more
important than quality.
This is a distinguished and enjoyable recital. More please!
see also review by Simon
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART
Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)
Nuit d’étoiles [3:02]
Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)
Le grillon [3:07]
Gabriel FAURÉ (1845-1924)
Claire de lune [3:11]
Peter WARLOCK (1894-1930)
The Night [2:00]
Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS (1872-1958)
Richard Rodney BENNETT (b.
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Auf der Bruck [3:39]
Hugo WOLF (1860-1903)
Um Mitternacht [4:18]
Schon streckt’ ich aus im Bett [1:51]
Sérénade toscane [2:50]
Nicht länger kann ich singen [1:22]
Raymond YIU (b. 1973)
Sonnet (2011) [3:35]
Franz LISZT (1811-1886)
Oh! quand je dors [4:48]
Und steht Ihr früh am Morgen auf [2:55]
Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949)
Clara SCHUMANN (1819-1896)
Der Mond kommt still gegangen [2:04]
Charles GOUNOD (1818-1893)
Viens! Les gazons sont verts! [1:12]