Sunday’s song recital was one which everyone lucky enough to find themselves in the audience on a chilly November afternoon on the North Norfolk coast will remember for many years.
These two young artists, who on Boxing Day are to be seen on BBC 2 in a dramatic presentation of Schubert’s searing song cycle, Die Winterreise, have all the aplomb and technique – a feeling for the drama of the songs – of mature artists. Their programme melded together a wide range of nocturnal songs into a compelling whole.
Benjamin Appl is a protégé of Dietrich Fisher-Dieskau, arguably the finest singer of the 20th century, and Appl has more than a dash of his mentor’s quiet authority and commanding vocal range. His is a tall, handsome, gentle and striking physical presence. But what is so thrilling and engaging is the timbre of his voice, which has a huge dynamic and tonal range, to my ears almost unerring diction in English, German, Russian and French, and a concentration, a sense of musical coherence and progression, which put him into a very small class of outstanding lieder singers.
It will be very exciting to see how his career develops. Already his discs of Bach and German lied are amongst my own Desert Island selection. If you are searching for Christmas presents for musical youngsters, it would be difficult to think of anything more inspirational.
A lied is a short story compressed into a few minutes, sometimes, in the case of Schumann, into just a few fleeting seconds, and the interplay of voices, the singer and the piano, is the supreme test of any duo’s musicianship. Appl and Baillieu were like a composite performer, a single musical intelligence – no mean achievement when some of the piano parts are technically as demanding as a bravura Liszt study.
The Earl King is the most glorious of nineteenth century melodramas. We hear a young child snatched from his anxious father’s arms, abducted and killed by the wily, sinister Goblin King. Much of the drama comes from the interplay of voices: the terrified child, his loving father and the sneaky Spirit- we hear the clatter of horses’ hooves pounding through the forest of the night.
All of this was realised masterfully, beautifully, movingly by Benjamin Appl and James Balilleau – whose canny hands seemingly suffered not a suggestion of RSI at the end of their terrifying ride.