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Despite flashes of unrivalled sound, Scholl does not dazzle

Théâtre des Champs-Elysées
11/02/2004 -  
German Baroque Lieder;Handel arias
Andreas Scholl, countertenor
Markus Märkl, harpsichord

On a continent that has no shortage of remarkable countertenors, Andreas Scholl isn’t getting any breaks. Scholl was not in top voice for his recital at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées on Tuesday, and he left his audience just short of convinced.

Is he worthy of praise for his willingness to explore unknown Baroque repertoire? There the reply comes easily: a confident “yes.” The first half of Scholl’s program included German Lieder from the 17th and 18th centuries by the likes of Johann Nauwach, Heinrich Albert, Andreas Hammerschmidt, Johann Valentin Görner, and Johann Casper Ferdinand Fischer. Amidst these composers, Scholl found room to showcase the richness and splendor of his alto countertenor voice.

As he was obliged to clear his throat with some frequency throughout the recital and sometimes mid-song, one can only guess that Scholl was as under the weather as members of the sniffling public. Scholl exhibited an occasional tendency to play around the pitch, coming in just above or below the note, then sliding down or up – oh so subtly – to where he needed to be. This was probably to add interest to the occasional sapless vocal line, but this came off as pitchy in parts, particularly toward the end of “Der Liebe Macht herrscht Tag und Nacht” by Adam Krieger.

Though Scholl has been accused of being undercharged in his expressivity, his renderings in tonight’s recital were understated and authentic. Scholl was most emotionally engaging in Johann Philipp Krieger’s “An die Einsamkeit,” a short ode to solitude that features a several high vocal lines where Scholl’s pure and soulful tone shines most.

The second half of the program was exclusively Handel, and Scholl was clearly at home here. While singing three arias composed by Handel during his Rome sojourn, Scholl’s voice took on added confidence and dimension. Signs of vocal fatigue near the end of “Dolce pur d’amore l’affanno” didn’t prevent Scholl from performing three encores, all Handel, all sung with renewed vigor.

Throughout the recital, Scholl was ably accompanied on the harpsichord by Markus Märkl, who added flourish by chiming in on the chorus of “Der Rheinsche Wein tanzt gar zu fein,” as well as played a mesmerizing Handel Chaconne (HWV435, second version of 1733).

On stage, Scholl cuts a trim, preppy figure, a bonus (or perhaps a reason) for his polished – if heavily marketed – image. Aside from his cultivated image, an enviable discography and the lofty expectations surrounding his performances, however, it remains undeniable that Scholl exhibits raw talent. Indeed, the facility of Scholl’s voice, coupled with hard-earned technique, were definitive elements of this evening’s concert.

Sometimes, though, and in particular tonight, vocal ease and expertise isn’t all it takes to outshine and enthrall.

Alexandra Day



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