Anando Mukerjee & Leslie Howard

An die Leier, D737; Du bist die Ruh, D776; Vier Refrainlieder, D886 – Bei dir allein
Im Rhein, im schönen Strome; Freudvoll und leidvoll; Der du von dem Himmel bist; Tre Sonetti di Petrarca
Heimliche Aufforderung, Op.27/3; Allerseelen Op.10/8; Ständchen Op.17/2; Traum durch die Dämmerung, Op.29/1
D’une prison; L’Enamourée; À Chloris
L’invitation au voyage; Chanson triste; Phidylé

Anando Mukerjee (tenor) & Leslie Howard (piano)

Reviewed by: Richard Nicholson

Reviewed: 29 May, 2007
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London

First impressions during the Schubert group were of a baritonal timbre in the middle register surmounted by a spongy top as Anando Mukerjee strove to gain confidence. The German pronunciation was rather prosaic. We also encountered a feature which was to dog Mukerjee through much of the evening: uncomfortable and eccentrically-produced high notes.

The piercing A flats in the repeated climactic phrases of “Du bist die Ruh” caused a few heads to shake around me. Mukerjee’s tone was pushed right back into the throat and compressed into the bargain. Three songs by Liszt provided more accessible pleasure before Mukerjee tackled the varied style and fierce demands of the “Three Petrarch Sonnets”. Here much skill is needed to accommodate the high notes in the wide-ranging line – Mukerjee’s stuck out blatantly and with the same unhappily squeezed quality.

There was a dramatic improvement in the second half, starting with a group of Richard Strauss favourites. The vigorous “Ständchen” and “Heimliche Aufforderung” really caught fire. There was a delightful impishness in the singer’s invitation to the beloved to join him in the garden in the former song, accompanied by a welcome sense of linguistic liberation; the enunciation of the tightly-knit text at speed in both contributed greatly to their effect. The more restrained and intimate “Allerseelen” and “Traum durch die Dämmerung” were invested with sensitivity and intensity, with the final ascending phrase of the latter being sustained impressively to its end, completing a successful group and overcoming previous scepticism.

The upturn in the evening was confirmed by the French songs. The Hahn group offered nothing in the way of high notes, so we could concentrate without distraction on the real strength of Mukerjee’s technique in mélodie – his ability to deliver long phrases with words and musical line fused in a true legato. If he struggled to find real depth in “À Chloris”, the atmosphere of “D’une prison” was magically caught and kept.

The Duparc songs are of musically greater quality and cover a wider emotional range, something which was well illustrated in “Phidylé”, whose light opening and passionate ending were reflected with equal conviction. Even so, it was in his two encores, much favoured by Italian tenors, “Mattinata” (Leoncavallo) and “Core ‘ngrato”, that one had the impression of finally arriving on Mukerjee’s home territory.

To leave the contribution of the pianist to the final paragraph seems like reverting to the bad old days when the accompanist was relegated to virtual serfdom. It might have been expected that the engagement of such a virtuoso as Leslie Howard would produce an imbalance or that he would be too considerate of his novice partner. In fact, neither proved to be true. His illumination of the music, at times of both prominence and restraint, was memorable throughout.

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