A crop of gorgeous voices from the Royal Academy of Music was on display at Wigmore Hall in a programme united by a Venetian theme, a journey through this gothic, timeless city.
The opening number, by Tosti, was quaint and wistful in the Neapolitan style, performed with charm and fervour by Richard Walshe. Massenet’s dreamy ‘Souvenir de Venise’ is as light and jaunty as a breeze; Patrick Terry gave a lively rendition with beautiful sustained notes and lovely phrasing, but without implying the restive nostalgia of the poem. Hiroshi Amako chose a Glinka song, the lilting ‘Venetianskaya Noch’ rhapsodising the elements of sky and water in romantic moonlight; Amako’s engaging and communicative style was paired with a lovely line and tone and he got better and better: Fauré’s ‘Barcarolle’ displayed subtlety and lightness and Rossini’s ‘La gita in gondola’ showed impressive flexibility and sensitivity.
Meinir Wyn Roberts opened her account with Fanny Mendelssohn’s ‘Gondellied’; her golden tones mirrored the poetry as strains of music crossed the waters to the sea, and her Rossini duet with Terry, ‘La regatta veneziana’, was wonderfully animated. Robert Schumann and Felix Mendelssohn both set a love-lyric by Thomas Moore, and Walshe sang them in exemplary fashion. Another highlight was the duet ‘I marinai’ by Rossini pairing Walshe with Amako, the singers bringing out the drama of a storm at sea.
The more-sinister side of Venice was conveyed by Schubert’s ‘Gondelfahrer’, written against a background of political and personal repression – the night is brooding and the gondolier is the only watchman. Terry’s voice rang clear and true here and also for Hugo Wolf’s ‘Benedeit die sel’ge Mutter’, but attractive tone is not the only attribute required for Lieder, a tremendous challenge for a countertenor when the emphasis is on production of sound rather than nuanced interpretation of text. Another gem, ‘Venedig’ by Oskar Fried, portrayed the shifting, illusory quality of Venice at night, seen in watery reflections; Roberts brought out all the shimmering qualities of Nietzsche’s poetry and contributed to a bewitching duet with Terry, Offenbach’s ‘Belle nuit, ô nuit d'amour’.
Of the pianists, Zuzanna Basinska accompanied Roberts and Terry with sensitivity and élan, while Keval Shah provided playing for Amako and Walshe that enjoyed attention to detail.