Wigmore Hall Live – Simon Keenlyside & Malcolm Martineau

0 of 5 stars

An Silvia, D891; Die Einsiedelei, D393; Verklärung, D59; Die Sterne, D939; Himmelsfunken, D651; Ständchen, D957/4
Mörike Lieder [selection: Der Knabe und das immelsein; Gesang Weylas; An die Geliebte; Auf eine Christblume II; Lied eines Verliebten; Lied vom Winde]
Aubade, Op.6/1; En sourdine, Op.58/2; Green, Op.58/3; Notre amour, Op.23/2; Fleur jetée, Op.39/2; Spleen, Op.51/3; Madrigal de Shylock, Op.57/2; Le papillon et la fleur, Op.1/1
Histoires naturelles

Simon Keenlyside (baritone) & Malcolm Martineau (piano)

Recorded 26 October 2008 in Wigmore Hall, London

Reviewed by: Rob Pennock

Reviewed: December 2009
Duration: 74 minutes



Simon Keenlyside first made a name for himself with an exceptional EMI disc of Schubert Lieder in 1994. Since then he has gone on to become one of the world’s leading baritones in both opera and song. He is now 50 (in 2009), yet the promise of that Schubert release has not been quite realised. Keenlyside is a very fine singer who has hinted at, rather than achieved, greatness.

Historical comparisons are not easy. One thinks perhaps of the great Gérard Souzay, who juxtaposed French and German song. But Keenlyside was trained to sing – like all of his generation – without true legato. Every note is a separate entity, so his expressive armoury is limited and nowhere in this recital will you find the gorgeous mellifluous line that the Frenchman could spin. Nor is the voice quite as fresh and focused as it was in 1994. Furthermore the recorded sound isn’t entirely natural. Tony Faulkner is one of the world’s great recording engineers, but here there is an unnatural sense of space around the artists that I have never heard at Wigmore Hall, which cannot be entirely put down to the inadequacies of digital sound.

So, what of the actual singing? His recitals are certainly an eclectic mix of styles and languages and on every occasion I have heard him he has changed the running order of the programme, as he did in this Wigmore Hall recital when the halves were swapped. Bizarrely on the CD the original advertised running order is restored. Three of the Schubert, one of the Fauré songs and a Wolf encore have been cut, yet one unadvertised Wolf setting appears to have been added! Perhaps Wigmore Hall Live should have offered an additional disc free of charge to documents the complete event.

The first Schubert song ‘An Sylvia’ has a sense of face, exceptional dynamic variation and pointing and the pianissimo singing in ‘Verklärung’ is very fine. Yet in this song the young Peter Schreier, live at the Salzburg Festival in 1965, finds more expressive and tonal nuance. In ‘Ständchen’ Keenlyside tries to capture the song’s emotional ambivalence, but by comparison with Malcolm Martineau’s profoundly beautiful – the pedalling is marvellous – immensely dark and powerful accompaniment, he sounds two-dimensional and loud. Indeed throughout this group there is a lack of true spontaneity and flow to the phrasing.

Things improve in Wolf’s epigrammatic masterpieces. To take one song ‘An die Geliebte’ from the “Mörike Lieder” we hear darkness at the beginning and a semblance of legato. Each word is carefully considered and the forte passage is imposing. But Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau in Salzburg in 1961 with Gerald Moore flows effortlessly from note to note in the first two lines at a slower tempo and seems awestruck by his beloved. He also uses far more shades of pianissimo and, like Schreier, greater tonal variety and allows the final line to die away.

In the Fauré items the temptation to compare Keenlyside with Souzay is too great. In ‘En sourdine’ the Frenchman is slightly slower, the opening word “Calme” is just that. It is difficult to imagine anything more beautiful than the opening of the third stanza or the song’s last three words and behind all of this ravishing sound there is a sense of ambivalent unease. Keenlyside simply cannot approach this level of vocal and interpretative sophistication; indeed you could almost be listening to a completely different song. ‘Fleur jetée’ is better; here the declamation is imposing, but in ‘Spleen’ Martineau’s exquisitely subtle rippling backdrop doesn’t elicit such poetry from his partner.

The first of Ravel’s descriptions of various winged fauna brings some laughter at ‘Léon! Léon!’, but there just isn’t enough tonal variety or word-painting. There is certainly a sense of enthusiasm, a desire to communicate and a genuine sense of enjoyment in this recital. But judged by the highest standards, Keenlyside is found wanting: excellent but not great.

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