Benjamin Appl and Sholto Kynoch, 14th October
The fact that one of the highlights of the Oxford cultural year has found a way to survive through the current restrictions is something to celebrate. And it was with a great sense of joy that I entered Oxford Lieder Festival's Virtual Concert Hall to spend time with one of my favourite singers - the young German baritone Benjamin Appl.
Festival founder Sholto Kynoch and Appl have put together an eclectic and intimate programme titled The Sound of Silence. It is in part a meditation on the role of silence in our lives and in part an exploration of how silence is a vital part of the musical experience. In short, it is a masterpiece of programme construction.
Opening with the plain song, 'Domine exaudi', we were immediately transported into that contemplative space where your thoughts can find freedom to be explored. One of Appl's greatest skills as a lieder singer is his ability to scale his voice to suit the mood he wishes to create and this piece, the most straightforward of musical forms, was a deceptively simple and yet complex opening. One of the best starts to any recital I have attended.
What followed was no less engaging. Appl is always at home with the greats of German song - his Schubert and Schumann interpretations are exemplary. His facility with language and his growing skill as an actor combined with his natural musicality work so well in this repertoire.
But it was when he explored other composers that I was most entranced. 'Tu se' morta' from Monteverdi's Orfeo was heartbreaking and makes me long to hear more from him in this repertoire.
The discovery of the evening for me was the collection of songs by Charles Ives - 'Memories', 'Very Pleasant' and 'Rather Sad' were a delight. I shall certainly explore more of his songs.
Appl's range as a performer continues to grow and, in a way, the fact that this year's festival is only online helps us to enjoy his artistry in a more direct and intimate way. The closeness of the camera makes it feel as if he is performing just for you. His engagement with the music, the text and the virtual audience just comes together perfectly. I shall be revisiting this recital for the rest of the month.
Special praise must also go to Kynoch - he is an incredibly supportive and responsive accompanist. He never outshines the singer - yet still manages to be a very active participant in the music-making.
More praise must also go to the Festival for showcasing younger singers at the start of each concert. Nardus Williams gave radiant performances of two Schubert settings - she is a huge talent and a voice to watch for the future.
Overall, this was a triumphant evening of music. It shows how art can triumph through these times. Technology, in many ways, has made this even better than it would have been in person.
Brava to all concerned!