Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Andreas Scholl Recital, San Francisco

Seeing Andreas Scholl in recital for the first time so soon after seeing him three times in a fully staged opera was an odd experience. Coming at it purely from my hero-worshipping point of view, he was godlike in Rodelinda, then profoundly normal backstage, so in recital, it's like the two had to reconcile somehow...or maybe just I had to reconcile them. In recital, he looks like a regular, sweetly adorkable guy in his button-down shirt and ill-fitting trousers, but then when he starts to sing--I don't know if I can express this in a non-corny way--when he starts to sing, the sound that comes from his throat is the sound of divinity. I know of no sound more beautiful.

Scholl's recital voice is very different from his opera voice. I've heard many times that recitals of songs and lieder require singers to use a different palette of colors, but Scholl uses different colors, different brushes, a whole different medium. It's like comparing a huge Tiepolo with one of those tiny, insanely detailed Dutch flower paintings. His operatic voice is less androgynous, darker, more burnished, heroic, while his recital voice is nearly a return to the angelic tones of the very young Scholl; it brings to mind illuminated manuscripts--colorful, minutely detailed, glittering with gold.

The recital opened with an a cappella setting of Oswald von Wolkenstein's "Herz, Muet, Leib, Sel" (Heart, Mind, Body, Soul). It is an extremely sensual song, which always contrasts rather sharply with the purity of Scholl's tone, but it's also about longing, and he has a wonderful ache in his voice, a slight throb, that is the aural equivalent of longing. Hearing that ache inspires another ache in me in response, the selfish sort of ache of something that wants to glut itself on the sound of his voice until it's drunk on the sheer surfeit. "Herz, Muet, Leib, Sel" was the perfect showpiece for Scholl's voice--it's in his native tongue, and the setting used let him spin out seemingly endless streams of honeyed, liquid sound. His voice sounds the way cream looks when it's being poured, silky, sweet, pure, but with little shadows flowing through it.

After the a cappella song, a pianist seemed almost distracting or superfluous, though J.J. Penna was a fine accompanist and never tried to overshadow Scholl. The next two songs, "Amarilli mia bella" and "O bella piu", were ravishingly lovely, and the voice was much fuller and more complete than it had been on A Musicall Banquet (the CD on which the two songs appear). In one of the songs, Scholl does something like a trill on one word, but it's not exactly a trill, more of a flutter, like the fluttering of a heart in love or the quiver of excitement you feel in your stomach.

In the next set, Scholl sang two Purcell songs: "Music for a While" and "Sweeter than Roses". "Sweeter than Roses" hasn't really stuck in my mind, probably because Thursday night was the first time I'd ever heard the song. In "Music for a While", Scholl showed off the amazing illustrative power of his voice. The text of the song mentions snakes dropping from Alecto's head, and the word "drop" is repeated several times. Though I didn't exactly picture snakes, each time Scholl sang the word "Drop" (or "Drrrop!"), I could see water droplets growing fat and falling until they splashed. Throughout the evening, Scholl's singing inspired such synaesthesia--he was like the figure in Botticelli's La Primavera, the one with vines coming from her mouth, only with Scholl, they were virtual vines, curling tendrils of sound that blossomed.

Seeing Rodelinda three times spoiled me a bit, I'm afraid, because hearing something multiple times helps me remember it better. The three Haydn songs in the next set didn't make much of an impression on me, through no fault of Scholl's. He sang them beautifully and expressively, but again, it was the first time I'd ever heard them. They were very melancholy and just not very Haydnesque (when I think of Haydn, I usually think of grand symphonies). I'm also not sure how many times Scholl has performed these songs; I think he might have just begun performing them in recital this year, so his interpretations of them will probably continue to deepen and mature over time. I'm also having trouble remembering the two Mozart songs that were in the next set, even though I do remember that I liked them very much, especially "Ah! spiegarti, oh Dio".

After the intermission, Scholl sang two Handel cantatas, after explaining to the audience about the Accademia degli Arcadi (who composed cantatas on the subject of Arcadia as a replacement for operas, which were banned by the church) and making a few DaVinci Code jokes. Scholl has recorded an entire CD of these Arcadian cantatas written by members of the Accademia degli Arcadi, and they are simple, fresh, and sparkling. Handel's cantatas had the same basic structure and theme as the Arcadian cantatas, but they felt a bit heavier. "Nel dolce tempo" was sweet, and on one word in it, Scholl did his famous "Scholl note" in which he starts out soft and gentle with very little vibrato, then grows louder and adds warmth and vibrato, and then draws the note back into softness again. Apparently, using no vibrato like that is easier, but I think Scholl must be using at least a little vibrato in these quiet parts, because they are not cold and "white"; they are more like cooked sugar pulled into a thin filament. "Vedendo amor" was more like Vivaldi's "Cessate, omai cessate", in which the singer ends in a furious rage against his cruel beloved. The ragey bits of the cantatas always have lots of fast coloratura in them too.

There was only one encore, in spite of the enthuasiasm of the crowd. I think Scholl's allergies were bothering him, because he cleared his throat quite a bit and drank a lot of water, once commenting on the dryness of the air. (The air in the hall was extremely dry; my contacts kept trying to pop out in revolt.) Also, at his other recent concerts, Scholl had a small ensemble with him, as well as a pianist. In San Francisco, though, he only had a pianist, so maybe he thought that the arias he did as encores before wouldn't have sounded right with just a piano. I'm a little disappointed, because two of his previous encores were "Al lampo dell'armi" and "Va, per le vene il sangue" are two of my favorites. His encore was an encore in a literal sense too--he sang "Music for a While" again. Far from being repetitive though, the second version was extremely different from the first--it was melancholy, as if he were begging for the music to distract him from his suffering. Still, it was absolutely gorgeous.

Physically, Scholl is still kind of an awkward recitalist, but I'm a Keenlyside fan, so I'm used to it and find it kind of endearing, because I'd totally shit myself if I had to sing in front of a bunch of people. He has an adorable self-conscious unselfconsciousness, by which I mean that he moves somewhat awkwardly, but his enthusiasm for his art is so great that he just can't help but move, gesture, act things out. He certainly got more relaxed as the night went on, and by the end, he was striding quite confidently on and off the stage.

All in all, it was a wonderful recital, like (to be cliché) a box of chocolates, only without one of those nasty maple sugar or rum raisin pieces. So the San Francisco Chronicle "reviewer" who said that Scholl was inaudible and a "cold classicist" should just take his thumbs out of his ears and put them back up his ass where they usually are. Honestly, what a dicksmack. He was probably off having a wank in the bathroom like a leper instead of in the hall listening.

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