Schubert with Banjamin Appl (Wigmore Hall, 11 January 2016)
You check your email, see the dreaded notice from the Hall and think please, let it be the accompanist… Well, when life offers you appls instead of pisaronis you might as well make appl saft and commend the singer who stepped in with a one week notice.
If I remember correctly, Wigmore Hall committed to running through Schubert’s entire work (or at least lieder?) over the course of 2016. This concert is part of that series.
Banjamin Appl, baritone
Jonathan Ware, piano
An die Apfelbäume, wo ich Julien erblickte (Hölty)
An den Mond (Hölty)
Songs with poems by Goethe
Nähe des Geliebten
An den Mond
Totengräbers Heimwehe (Craigher)
Drang in die Ferne (Leitner)
Der Wanderer an den Mond (Seidl)
Der Wanderer (Schmidt von Lübeck)
I included a picture of Appl next to the piano because he struck me more than other singers as someone whose voice matches his looks. He is tall, lean and handsome in that German way and he sounds just like that: tall (effortless top), lean (proper baritone but not too big) and German (not overly emotional).
He started without much fuss – about 15secs from stepping on the stage. Through the show he conserved his energies like few other singers I’ve seen. He modestly kept his hands together, only ocasionally reaching them out. His sense of humour reminded me of my mum, who is a very serious person indeed. One time she was arguing something or another passionately. After a while it occurred to me that – about 5 phrases back – she had very casually mocked her own enthusiasm and then proceeded with her passionate argument. That’s sort of how Appl negotiated the funny songs.
There is no doubt Appl is a good singer with a very solid technique. I thought better than that but since I’m not a singer or that knowledgeable about lieder there might have been things I missed. But I have no complaints. Halfway through I thought I might go hear him not just as a replacement. The tone is handsome, he’s quite skillful with the dynamics, has a very nice lieder-trill and excellent diction. Since I for once have not been completely enamoured with the vocals, I noticed a lot more than usual the interplay between the piano and the voice. He and Ware communicated very clearly with each other and with us. I especially enjoyed the evocative manner in which the angsty Totengräbers Heimwehe was rendered.
Mostly it was as I imagine lieder done the German way – rather lounge-sized. It’s good to see things “as nature intended” at least some of the time. The only time Appl and Ware got all 3D with bells on was during Erlkönig. Ware started so feverishly it felt like someone’d suddenly plugged in the piano. Appl had to match him and he did so with much animation. I’m pleased to report that his voice projected very well but in a way that didn’t threaten eardrums. After the intermission things turned to the original calmer waters. All in all, a very good case for Schubert.