Nothing became Louise Alder’s Wigmore Hall recital like the leaving of it. Clamour for an encore at the end of an eclectic evening was rewarded by ‘Les Filles de Cadix’ (The Girls of Cadiz), a strutting bolero by Léo Delibes sung to a thrumming, guitar-like piano accompaniment. It cries out for a singer with brilliant timbre and a warm engagement, and the young soprano’s rendition was irresistible. She has a freshness to her delivery that’s redolent of Barbara Bonney at her finest.
The mélodie was the coda to a bold programme that showcased the breadth of Alder’s range. Mozart was the warm-hearted opener, a cannily chosen trio of songs that combined into a makeshift sonata form. The sunny eroticism of ‘An Chloe’ made way for a lilting ‘Abendempfindung’ (Evening Thoughts), its tripping accompaniments projected with fresh accuracy by James Baillieu, before the delicious irony of ‘Der Zauberer’ (The Magician) allowed singer and pianist to loosen some buttons.
Of the three songs by Bizet only one, ‘Adieux de l’hôtesse arabe’ (Farewell of the Arabian hostess), made much impact, not least in its hypnotically melismatic envoi, although all of them sat well in Alder’s voice. The same could not be said for Fauré’s Cinq mélodies ‘de Venise’, the five Verlaine settings that include ‘Mandoline’ and ‘Green’. This repertoire does not necessarily suit an operatic voice because anything too florid breaks the spell, and sure enough the music’s extase was insufficiently langoureuse. Even the title of ‘En sourdine’ (Muted) drops a big clue; yet the vocal sound remained over-bright.
Everything else was fine, indeed considerably more than that. Alder carried off her three Mendelssohn Lieder with a rapturous simplicity; this was an ideal approach for ‘Auf Flügein des Gesanges’ (On Wings of Song) and, especially, for ‘Neue Liebe’ (New Love), a Midsummer Night’s Dream-like Scherzo with a morbid twist in its tail. As for Richard Strauss, a quartet of his most enchanting songs, all magically sung and played, were worth the price of admission and then some. Strauss has been the soprano’s personal ‘house composer’ for a while now, at least since her triumphant Sophie for Welsh National Opera and her ecstatically received debut disc of his music for voice and piano - and it’s easy to see why. Her careful dosing of the melody in ‘Ruhe, meine Seele!’ allowed Karl Henckell’s poem to unfold over a spare, chordal piano part and build in psychological power to make absolute sense of “Rest, rest, my soul, your storms were wild”.
Baillieu’s upholstered accompaniment through the modulations of ‘Cäcilie’ and the piano’s arpeggiated bed to ‘Heimliche Aufforderung’ (Secret Invitation) were deeply impressive, while singer and pianist combined to ensure that Strauss’s small masterpiece ‘Morgen!’ was – and I don’t write this lightly – sheer perfection. Baillieu is as versatile as he is technically proficient, and Liszt’s Three Petrarch Sonnets allowed him to close the official programme with a well-earned flourish. His declamatory accompaniment to ‘Pace non trovo’ (I Find No Peace) was masterly, and he combined with Alder to render ‘Benedetto sia l’ gogno’ (Blessed Be the Day) and ‘I’ vidi in terra angelici costumi’ (I Beheld on Earth Angelic Grace) as dramas in miniature, the latter in particular resembling an excerpt from an abandoned opera. Hear them when this recital is released on Wigmore Hall Live; they’ll knock your socks off.