Thursday, May 03, 2007

Christopher Maltman

Sunday evening I heard English baritone Christopher Maltman's song recital at Herbst Theatre. It was a fully romantic program of songs by Peter Warlock, Debussy, Henri Duparc, Franz Schubert & Hugo Wolf.

Maltman is young, tall & slim, & he looked very happy to be with us. Both his voice & his stage presence are operatic. The different ranges of his voice had different colors. He made discreet use of falsetto when a song called for a quiet ending.

Maltman is also a great actor & can create a character for a song. For Warlock's Captain Stratton's Fancy, he becomes the boistrous, happy drunk. But for Wolf's Der Gärtner, he is the naive, shy gardener.

Even though this was Maltman's recital, it was the accompanist Julius Drake who really had my attention this evening. He is a fantastic pianist & musician. He could make such a tremendous amount of sound that I could feel the low notes through the floor. But he could also play beautifully quiet & fluid passages. Drake inhabited the music so fully that he did more than the singer to communicate the songs. In fact I'm afraid that I listened to him more than the singer. Several days later, the strongest impressions of this recital I have are of Drake's intense accompaniments for some of the Duparc & Wolf songs. At times he would rise off the piano bench while he played, & at the end of each set he would leap up immediately.

Unsurprisingly, Drake seems to be in high demand as a chamber music performer & accompanist. He is no doubt more than just a supporting player. Maltman often seemed to be conferring with him between pieces. At one point Drake even gave him a pitch before starting a song.

There were a couple of unfortunate technical difficulties during the 1st song. First, there was a sudden loud blast of something electronic, like feedback or an alarm, but it stopped almost as soon as it started. Then there was a softer electronic buzz that took a bit longer to go away. Maltman carried on completely unfazed by the distractions. Then to test Maltman further, a woman came down from the side boxes & sat herself in the front row, speaking to a couple of people nearby as she did so. She did all this while Maltman was singing, then she disappeared after intermission.

For his first encore Maltman did a Flanders & Swann number & instantly became outrageously charming. For the first time I focussed solely on his singing so that I could catch all the words. He followed this by a comic Debussy song, Ballade of the Parisian Women, also dispatched with appropriate theatrics.

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