John Chest impressed in Cardiff Singer of the World last year and he brought a finely wrought wintery programme to Wigmore Hall. There were plenty of hints of Spring too and also the intoxication of young love. Chest immediately set an energetic and beautiful tone with Gerald Finzi’s ‘O Mistress Mine’, his attractive, light and buzzy vibrato enhancing the emotional impact. This is a voice of astonishing maturity and could develop into a very special instrument. His Schubert choices, introspective and untypical, included the shifting keys of ‘Der Winterabend’, which painted a profound portrait of love and loss over a contented lifetime and in which Marcelo Amaral’s restrained accompaniment illuminated this emotional exploration with lovely descriptive touches, evoking swirls of wind and snow.
Other highlights from the first half included Roussel’s ‘Le jardin mouillé’ with exquisite raindrop effects and further Finzi, his nostalgic Hardy setting ‘Childhood among the Ferns’. Chest’s theatrical powers were displayed with understated art in Schumann’s ‘Wehmut’ and Wolf’s setting of Mörike’s ‘Verborgenheit’: a fine balance between torment and prayerful resignation.
More Hardy settings opened the second half, Britten’s Winter Words, which have more than an echo of Schubert’s great masterpiece – Chest conveying their essential Englishness, magnificently exemplified in ‘The Journeying Boy’ and ‘Before life and after’ – and then ‘Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen’ from Mahler’s Rückert-Lieder.
The final songs in the recital offered contrasting states tinged with sadness. Wolf’s very particular lyrical melancholy was perfectly captured by Chest in ‘Im Frühling’, his golden tones impressive, and then Ivor Gurney’s ‘Sleep’ mesmerised. What could follow sleep, but dreams, Chest inhabiting ‘Nacht und Träume’, Schubert’s great meditation, and an encore to savour from a singer of great subtlety and sophistication.