Thomas Allen & Simon Over

La bonne chanson, Op.61
L’Horizon chimerique, Op.118
La vie antérieure
L’Invitation au voyage
Histoires naturelles

Thomas Allen (baritone) & Simon Over (piano)

Reviewed by: Rob Pennock

Reviewed: 16 December, 2006
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London

Thomas Allen is something of a vocal miracle. He is now 62, yet his voice is still in remarkably good condition, and, as this recital demonstrated, he makes no concession to age in his choice of programme.

French song is very demanding and when transposition is needed Allen still chooses the high baritone option. Inevitably there are some vocal problems: the voice has lost power and fullness, particularly at forte and below; its flexibility has decreased; everything is more effortful; intonation and note-values are more approximate than in Allen’s heyday and I did wonder whether the vocal line would seriously falter on a few occasions. But despite these concerns, this was a great concert.

In the first song of the first cycle of Fauré the rubato in the final line of verse two and the hollow tone at “accord” in the final verse were superb. The second song brought exceptional control of micro-dynamics and ‘La lune blanche’ was sung sotto voce with the final line pp to ppp. ‘Danc, ce sera…’ had a faultless rise on the second and third words and in the last song of the cycle his line in the second stanza was exemplary.

“L’Horizon chimerique” was even better, with exceptional breath control in the first song and a sense of undulating rocking imparted by dynamic control. The last. ‘Diane, Séléné’ was well nigh perfect, Allen never rose above piano and the tonal shading was infinitely varied. This was rapt, exquisite singing.

After the interval all the same qualities were present, but if anything the tonal shading was even greater. In Duparc Virtually every word seemed to have a different quality and inflection without any disruption to the line or any sense of over-embellishment or pointing. In Ravel’s description of avian and insect fauna, Allen brought a sense of playfulness, wit and, when needed, grace to every word. Aside from these qualities, there was a palpable sense of concentration and intensity from the audience. Even those dear souls clearly in their tubercular death-throes generally managed to keep quiet during the music.

There were two Ravel encores, from “Cinq mélodies populaires grecques” and “Don Quichotte à Dulcinée”, both of which brought some strain, given their high tessitura and the need to sing at piano and below.

Simon Over’s contribution to the evening wasn’t on the same plane. His tone was uningratiating and, unforgivably in “Extase”, he was far too loud. But this was a memorable recital, a masterclass in tonal shading and the ability to command an audience.

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