Sir Bryn Terfel at Carnegie Hall 

Let Us Garlands Bring, Op.18
J. Thomas
Bugeilio’r Gwenith Gwyn
I Can Give You the Starlight, from The Dancing Years
Suo Gân [arr. Hazell]
We’ll Gather Lilacs from Perchance to Dream
Beside the Sea [arr. Hazell]
David of the White Rock [arr. Thomas and Davies]
My Dearest Dear, from The Dancing Years
And Her Mother Came Too, from A to Z
Schwanengesang, D957 – I: Liebesbotschaft
Litanei auf das Fest aller Seelen, D343
Auf dem Wasser zu singen, D774
Viejo Zortzico
Nuit d’étoiles
R. Schumann
Mein schöner Stern!, Op.101/4
Wie Todesahnung … O du mein holder Abendstern, from Tannhäuser [arr. Jeff Howard]
All Through the Night [arr. Hazell]
C. Schōnberg
Stars, from Les Misérables

Sir Bryn Terfel (bass-baritone)

Reviewed by: Susan Stempleski

Reviewed: 14 November, 2023
Venue: Stern Auditorium, Carnegie Hall, New York City

After a six-year absence, Sir Bryn Terfel returned to Carnegie Hall with a widely diverse program. The recital began with what he described as “a trip down memory lane” – Let Us Garlands Bring Gerald Finzi’s settings of five Shakespearean texts the first song cycle the singer learned as a student at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. Terfel’s impeccable diction and vocal polish were apparent from the first lines of the somber-toned “Come away, come away, death”. “Who is Sylvia?” was marked by extraordinary lightness, and “Fear no more the heat o’ the sun” proved particularly poignant with pianist Annabel Thwaite’s plaintive accompaniment. The light-hearted “O mistress mine’’ wonderfully expressive, and the final “It was a lover and his lass” gently graceful.

The lyrical sounds of the Welsh national instrument resonated in John Thomas’s arrangement of the traditional “Bugeilio’r Gwenith Gwyn” (Watching the Wheat), the first Welsh piece on the program and one of two sparkling solo interludes by Terfel’s renowned harpist wife, Hannah Stone.  

The first half of the program ended with a mix of show ballads by the Welsh composer Ivan Novello interspersed with traditional Welsh songs, some accompanied by piano, others by harp. Novello’s sweetly sentimental “I Can Give you the Starlight”, “We’ll Gather Lilacs”, and “My Dearest Dear” – all from the 1930s and 40s – enjoyed a smooth, romantic treatment. In an altogether different vein was “And Her Mother Came Too”. Terfel’s hilarious interpretation of this saucy tale about an overbearing, ever-present mother-in-law had the audience laughing out loud. The three folk songs – the gently nostalgic Ar lan y Môr” (Down by the sea); the mournful “Dafydd y Garreg Wen” (David of the White Rock), and the hauntingly beautiful “Suo Gân” (Lullaby) – were rendered with great sensitivity,

The second half opened with three Schubert lieder. “Liebesbotschaft” (Love’s Message) and “Auf dem Wasser zu singen” (To be Sung on the Water) were both finely sung, but the highlight of the set was “Litanei auf des Fest Allerseelen” (Litany for the Feast of All Souls), its long phrases exhibiting extraordinary breath control, exquisite pianissimo, and impeccable German diction. At the piano, Thwaite provided perfect support in every respect.

Following the Schubert songs, Stone returned to the stage for a second solo turn: a lilting rendition of the Spanish composer Jesús Guridi’s Basque folk dance, “Viejo Zortzico”. 

The program ended with five songs by different composers but linked by a common theme: “Songs of the Stars”. Following Debussy’s beguiling ‘Nuit d’étoiles and Robert Schumann’s ardent “Mein schöner Stern!”, Terfel offered a wondrously nuanced version of “O du mein holder Abendstern”, the nobleman Wolfram’s hymn to the evening star from Wagner’s Tannhäuser.  

After the prayerfully calm “Ar Hyd y Nos” (All through the Night), sung with the last verse in English, the program concluded with an impassioned performance of the showstopping “Stars” from Les Misérables. 

There were three encores: the first a delicate arrangement of John Jacob Niles’s Appalachian folk hymn, “I Wonder as I Wander”, performed by all three artists; the second a virtuosic account by Stone of Deborah Henson-Conant’s fiery solo showpiece “Baroque Flamenco”, complete with percussive effects tapped out on the harp soundboard; and the third a supremely roguish “If I Were a Rich Man” from Fiddler on the Roof by Terfel accompanied by Thwaite and some spontaneous rhythmic clapping from the audience.

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