Almost six years to the day since his last appearance Bryn, now Sir Bryn, Terfel made it back to Koerner hall for a much anticipated recital; this time accompanied by Annabel Thwaite. The first set, partly setting up a Shakespeare theme for the evening, consisted of four songs by Schubert including “Trinklied” and “An Silvia”. It was followed by three of the the Quilter Shakespeare settings; “Come Away, Come Away, Death”, “O Mistress Mine” and “Blow, Blow Thou Winter Wind”. The first half concluded with the Vier ernste Gesänge of Brahms. I think it’s fair to say that what we were hearing was not the Bryn that his considerable following in the hall expected. The artistry of interpretation was still there but something was up with the voice. It didn’t have the bloom I remembered and in places, especially with high notes, it just wasn’t happening. Was he a bit under the weather or was it the toll of the years and lots of Wagner? I don’t know but I really hope it was the former.
There were still signs of trouble after the break but it was generally better with more than hints of the old Bryn in works we associate with him. There were four songs from Vaughan Williams Songs of Travel including a really nice “Whither Must I wander?” This was followed by Finzi’s Let Us Garlands Bring with an especially effective “Fear No More the Heat of the Sun”. The printed programme concluded with three settings by Beethoven of English (language) texts; “On the Massacre of Glencoe”, “The Vale of Clwyd” and “Oh Sweet Were the Hours” which were unfamiliar to me and an interesting discovery, especially the last with its rollicking chorus.
Bryn, being Bryn, there was an unpublished surprise; three songs by Ivor Novello including “We’ll Gather Lilacs in the Spring Again”. It’s always interesting to hear a classical singer singing this material and makes me reflect on how close popular and classical music used to lie and, perhaps, on the consequences of the increased divergence.
Then there were the encores. There had to be something in Welsh of course and we got a heartfelt rendering of “Ar Hyd y Nos” with two verses in Welsh and one in English. And, finally, an opera aria. I don’t know what it was but it included lots of very loud whistling. (ETA: Apparently it was Mefistofele’s opening aria from Boito’s opera of the same name. See comment below)
Bryn is a tremendous showman and really knows how to communicate with an audience and even with the obvious issues last night I enjoyed myself as, clearly, did a boisterous Koerner Hall crowd.