Baritone Benjamin Appl and pianist Wolfram Rieger gave us Die schöne Müllerin with a twist at Walter Hall last night. The twist was a companion/introductory piece by David Lang called flower, forget me based on one of the Müller poems that Schubert didn’t set with fragments of other flower related Schubert song texts. If death is a major theme in the main cycle it’s an obsession in the new piece! It’s also very low for a baritone with some really difficult phrasing. One had to admire Appl’s skill in navigating its lugubrious depths but there was an almost tangible sense of relief in the audience when the duo launched into the sunnier and more familiar territory of “Das Wandern”.
And so to the main event. The Schubert cycle was beautifully sung and played. Appl was Fischer-Dieskau’s last pupil and there is something of the master in his sensitivity to text. He also has a very beautiful voice. What struck me most last night though was how well judged his presentation was. He navigated a fine line between being too operatic and leaving everything to the voice as many German singers do. His non verbal communication was sparse but effective and worked nicely with his equally carefully judged vocal delivery. The result was deeply satisfying. And despite singing both pieces without a break he had the stamina to come back for a short encore. Rieger’s piano playing matched Appl’s approach very well. A little more demonstrative than some accompanists perhaps but that worked very well.
Appl is giving a free and open master class in Walter Hall at 3pm on Friday where he has promised to “torture some students”. Should be fun.
Photo credit: Catherine Willshire