Wigmore Hall Live: Christopher Maltman & Julius Drake

0 of 5 stars

Der Wanderer; Wanderers Nachtlied 1; Rastlose Liebe; Wanderers Nachtlied 2
Der Feuerreiter; Der Gärtner; An die Geliebte; Fussreise; Der Rattenfänger
Romance; Les cloches; Mandoline
L’invitation au voyage; La vague et la cloche; Phidylé
The Fox; The Singer; Captain Stratton’s Fancy
Flanders & Swann

Christopher Maltman (baritone) & Julius Drake (piano)

Recorded 16 June 2007 in Wigmore Hall, London

Reviewed by: Richard Nicholson

Reviewed: January 2008
Duration: 61 minutes



The Wigmore Live CD series is admirably discriminating in its selection of vocal recordings to preserve. Timing is all: though Christopher Maltman has become an annual performer at the Hall, the recital here released finds him vocally developed and interpretatively matured, just ten years after his success in what was then called the Lieder Prize at the Cardiff Singer of the World competition.

The programme displays Maltman’s range Lieder from both ends of the nineteenth-century, a double helping of French mélodies, and three pithy songs from the English song renaissance. Such a mixture is a little out of fashion but Maltman and Julius Drake are at home in all these choices, each of which has a unity, if not a perfect one.

The theme of the opening Schubert group is the alienated stranger. The group begins with the least poetically worthy of the four texts, by Georg Philipp Schmidt von Lübeck, but the performers make much of Schubert’s volatile setting. The changing moods are well captured, growing foreboding in the first couplet, the sweet and sour feeling of the second, followed by desolation, itself relieved by the vision of “Das Land, das meine Sprache spricht”. One vitiating feature is the singer’s over-enunciation of final consonants, most notably in the oracular message in the final lines: “Dort, wo du nicht bist, das ist das Glück”.The two Goethe “Wanderers Nachtlied” settings are straightforwardly sung but I am less happy with “Rastlose Liebe”. The style is too manic and the singer’s tone is lent an apparently conscious harsh edge; Sprechgesang from the singer and heavy piano-playing, including over-prominent sforzandi leave me feeling unfulfilled with the overall effect of the group.

The Hugo Wolf set begins with the massively demanding “Der Feuerreiter”. Singer and pianist powerfully project the narrative without slipping into the melodramatic, Maltman colouring his tone, not just with a broad brush in the scary passages but with small variations, such as at the discovery of the corpse in the ruins of the mill. Drake is a major player from the early running figures, through the raging fire and double-handed chords to the softening bars accompanying the slow subsidence of the blaze. This is an exceptionally well-structured performance.

Maltman hints at a greater feeling of ease in three early Debussy songs. He palpably relishes the sensuousness of the French language in “Les cloches”, as well as establishing his credentials as a baryton-martin in the high-reaching lines of “Romance”. Most character in this group derives from “Mandoline”, where there is just the right degree of irony in his interpretation of the writer’s apparently breathless admiration of the wooing suitors. This view is seconded by Drake’s deftness in the overwrought accompaniment.

The Duparc group also embodies plenty of variety. In “L’invitation au voyage” the familiar phrases rearing from the depths are complemented by powerful surges of tone to reinforce “les soleils mouillés” and “de ces ciels brouillés” and Drake’s postlude perfectly portrays the profound sense of contentment. The pianist has no time to rest on his laurels: the Lisztian power with which he depicts the crashing waves and the clanging bells of “La vague et la cloche”, as well as underlining the nihilistic fear of the song’s conclusion, is evidence of the width of his compass. That both artists can settle back immediately into the initial tranquillity of “Phidylé” is a fine achievement in a concert.

Maltman’s delivery of English in the Warlock songs reminds me a little of his predecessor Benjamin Luxon in its slight nasality. He wears a stern mask in “The Fox”, which is replaced by wistful musing in “The Singer”, all to be swept away in the populist “Captain Stratton’s Fancy”, which ends the recital with a glimpse of Warlock’s roistering side. The audience is then given a soft landing with an encore courtesy of by Flanders and Swann.

The performers are caught with great immediacy by the recording; indeed the listener is located in a vastly better acoustic than the rear seats normally allocated to the critical fraternity at Wigmore Hall! There is some excessive resonance in the early Schubert songs but it soon ceases to unsettle. Fine analytical notes, befitting the Wigmore’s well-informed audience, are provided by Gerald Larner, and original texts and English translations are included.

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