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Notes from the 2013 Schubertiade ( 8 ) • Andreas Scholl & Tamar Halperin

A Silver Voice in a Golden Age of Countertenors

It was hard not to be charmed by the limber grace of Tamar Halperin on the piano, coaxing no-nonsense, unsentimental beauty out of her parts in the Haydn Songs to Anne Hunter poems that countertenor Andreas Scholl sang in front of her, Saturday evening, August 31st. It was either that, or sticking one’s nose into the text, because you couldn’t understand more than every third word Scholl sang. No matter, perhaps, in these songs, since neither text nor music are quite as enchanting as, say, Haydn’s Scottish folk song arrangements.

>Notes from the 2013 Schubertiade ( 1 ) • An Introduction
>Notes from the 2013 Schubertiade ( 2 ) • Prégardien Père et Fils
>Notes from the 2013 Schubertiade ( 3 ) • Belcea Quartet & Thomas Quasthoff
>Notes from the 2013 Schubertiade ( 4 ) • Belcea Quartet & Till Fellner
>Notes from the 2013 Schubertiade ( 5 ) • Diana Damrau & Xavier de Maistre
>Notes from the 2013 Schubertiade ( 6 ) • Lemony Bostridge, Lascivious Röschmann
>Notes from the 2013 Schubertiade ( 7 ) • Hagen Quartett II

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Schubert, Brahms, Haydn, Mozart, "Wanderer",
Andreas Scholl, Tamar Halperin

The Schubert that followed didn’t take to the ear, not mine at least, delivered as it was with Scholl’s unique aesthetic and his voice that works well enough in Handel—just, but less so in songs like “Du bist die Ruh”.  The denatured clashed with the natural in Brahms’ “Mein Mädel hat einen Rosenmund” and there was little to no differentiation between characters in “Guten Abend, mein tausiger Schatz”. But in “All mein Gedanken” Scholl’s voice cleared up and moved from brittle and ungainly and forced to something purer. The sameishness of the delivery, meanwhile, remained. Happily “Da unten im Tale”, rather than being awkward, worked well and Scholl, bless him, didn’t attempt to get folksy in the dialect.

It can’t be easy—assuming there’s an awareness of this, however dim—to know that whereas he was once a trail blazer for countertenors, setting new standards for quality and popularity, he’s now—his career far from being over—been passed and surpassed by a new purpose-built crop of countertenors that have raised the bar again, leaving Scholl behind, a bygone great.

Ironically, the very highlight of the evening—a marvelous performance of “Der Tod und das Mädchen”—also highlighted that change in vocal expectations because it made obvious what a fine baritone voice lies beneath the voice above. In fact, the baritone part sounded in concert just like on the recording. The countertenor bit, well, not.

Mlle. Halperin provided for two intermezzi in the middle of all this song, putting her skills to marvelous use in an unpretentious Brahms Intermezzo op.118/2, then again in the second half, albeit with less success, in a dull and nondescript Mozart Rondo in F.

The first encore, a song by Idan Raichel that Scholl set to “In Stiller Nacht”, borderline hokum but remaining just on the right side of this subjective divide, was in many ways the most beautifully executed song of the night and a relief after the effortful and tedious, proto-romantic Mozart song (“Abendempfindung an Laura”) that had closed the official part of the recital.

Picture © & courtesy Schubertiade GmbH. Detail; Click to see entire picture.