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Chicago debut 2001

Review by Wynne Delacoma

Chicago Sun Times

Chicago, 24 January 2003  

This month's countertenor onslaught that culminates with the opening of Lyric Opera's new production of Handel's "Partenope'' Saturday continued Friday night at the University of Chicago with a recital by the young German Andreas Scholl.

A few weeks ago, the relatively unknown Canadian countertenor Daniel Taylor dazzled Music of the Baroque audiences with a performance that alternately raged at heaven and gently probed the heart. In Handel's rollicking "Partenope,'' countertenors David Daniels and Bejun Mehta will, if we're lucky, give us fully rounded characters toiling on the rocky road to love. In the intimate Mandel Hall, Scholl offered something much more modest but no less rewarding.

Coming onstage for their program of German Baroque songs and two lively Italian cantatas by Handel, Scholl and Markus Markl, his impressive harpsichord accompanist, were a self-effacing pair. Slim, wearing not-exactly-hip black shirts and pants, they looked like two young men who wanted nothing more than to tell us some entertaining stories we might not have heard before. Scholl is one of his generation's most acclaimed countertenors, with performances ranging from Carnegie Hall to the Glyndebourne Festival, and a Decca recording artist with numerous well-received CDs to his credit. But the atmosphere he and Markl created Friday night was exceptionally relaxed and communicative.

With 10 songs by such worthy but obscure 17th and 18th century composers as Johann Nauwach, Adam Krieger, Andreas Hammerschmidt and Heinrich Albert, the repertoire was mostly unfamiliar. But the book of love--whether unrequited, hopeful, frisky or profoundly contented--remains engrossing, and Scholl turned each song into a small snapshot of singularly vivid lovers.

His clear, bright countertenor has a boyish freshness that matched the animation he brought to the songs and two cantatas. Leaning forward as if to whisper in our ear, raising an eyebrow, gesturing dismissively at a fair maiden's scruples, he was an irresistible storyteller. Romping nimbly through Nauwach's "Ah, my love, let us hasten,'' he was a wily little seducer, the guileless purity of his vocal tone belying the ages-old male argument that the young lady in question should start making love, preferably to him, before she is too old and dried up and decayed to be worth seducing.

Johann Philipp Krieger's "To Solitude'' was a deliberately paced, disconsolate portrait of joyless grief. But a drinking song by Adam Krieger and Hammerschmidt's merry "The Art of Kissing'' were both blithe of spirit and impeccably sung.

With their multiple recitatives and arias, the evening's two Handel cantatas, "Nel dolce tempo (In the Gentle Days)'' and "Vedendo Amor (Since Love Saw),'' unfolded like deftly plotted short stories. Their images of courtly love and rage at being love's slave were brilliantly drawn.

In solo harpsichord works by Johann Caspar Ferdinand Fischer and Handel, Markl struck a fine balance between bracing precision and spontaneity.