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Bryn Terfel at UBC's Chan Centre, Vancouver

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This evening Bryn Terfel gave a recital as part of Vancouver Recital Society's 2007-8 season at the Chan Centre at the University of British Columbia. My review has a caveat: my original seat was one of the wretched seats placed on a curve in the hall, much narrower than the standard seat and with confining wooden armrests -- it's like sitting in the narrowest middle seat in coach on an Airbus, with the movie remote control imbedded in the side of the armrest and protruding into one's thigh -- and because the concert was sold out, I was given an alternate ticket in the chorus, behind the stage. The difference in sound was marked: Terfel's sonorous, rich tones reverberating off the back of the hall when he sang "Loch Lomond" and "Ar Hyd y Nos" (All Through the House) to us were swoon-worthy. (That's a technical term.)

In contrast, when he sang to the hall in several songs set deep in the voice, like in the Handel aria "Si, tra I ceppi e le ritorte" ("Berenice") and Mozart's concert aria "Io ti lascio, oh cara addio", as well as in the opening set of songs by John Ireland, his lower range from behind him during the runs and ornaments sounded rumbly-grumbly, mushy-gushy (more technical terms), although not so in the Schubert, so it was not as if his voice was ailing in the range. However, his mid-upper range is glorious: dead on the notes, seamless despite shifts of volume and dynamics, open, and bright. Of all of the recitalists I've seen in over three decades, he had the most extensive and evocative pallette when singing soft to medium, which he did often to great effect. Particularly fine in this regard were Schubert's "Litanei auf das Fest Aller Seelen," two songs by Faure ("Automne" and "Le Secret"), two by Ralph Vaughan Williams ("The Roadside Fire" and "Silent Noon"), and one of the songs by Roger Quilter. He is the consummate story-teller/communicator. It was during these pieces that he and accompanist Malcom Martineau were fused. Martineau's sensitive, often gentle, but strong accompaniment was equally impressive as an equal partner in each song. In Federick Keel's "Trade Winds," the breeze creating the ripples of water was audible in his playing.

The first half of the program was five sets of songs written by different composers to the poetry of John Masefield. The second half was a mixture of the Handel, Schubert, Faure, and traditional songs "from the Celtic Isles," ending with "Molly Malone," in which Terfel encouraged the audience to join in a repeat of the last refrain. Terfel and Martineau also performed two encores. The first I know, but not by name. (It's got animal noises in it, but it's not the Copland arrangement of a traditional American song that Marilyn Horne often sang.) The second was Don Giovanni's serenade, "Deh vieni alla finestra," in which Terfel walked around the orchestra section, serenading various women, each differently. The first he chose was a lovely young woman who could have been Zerlina, and he mock-pushed her (young, handsome) boyfriend out of the way. By someone else, this might have been forward or swarmy, but he has such natural charm that he's one of the few performers who could pull this off. This recital was a joy.

Edited to add:

According to his agency's website, he'll be performing his recital in the following cities:

15 April: Roy Thompson Hall, Toronto

17 April: Zellerback Hall, Berkeley

20 April: LA Opera, Los Angeles

23 April: Ordway Theater, Saint Paul

25 April: Carnegie Hall, New York City

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I love his recording with Cecilia Bartoli at Glyndebourne. Have to admit I enjoy her a bit more still than him, although he's wonderful. Discovered the CD when I was trying to find something on the Haydn operas, and she does a phenomenal coloratura turn on the one on the CD--I am convinced the Haydn operas deserve much more attention than they've gotten. Ms. Bartoli is quite irresistible, which most know--the face is always so happy that much is added to the superb musicianship. She is not glamorous like TeKanawa and certain others, but who cares? I can't find a fault with her, and Terfel is wonderful with her. It takes all kinds (as most also know....) Definitely recommend this CD for fans of both singers.

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