|Benjamin Appl (Photo Sony / Lars Borges)|
Reviewed by Ruth Hansford on Apr 21 2017
Telling his own story, the young German baritone in recital
This recital on 21 April 2017 was part of the Wigmore Hall’s expanded vocal series and the programme was a slightly reduced version of baritone Benjamin Appl and pianist James Baillieu’s first CD recital for Sony Classical, with songs by Schubert, Reger, Schreker, Brahms, Grieg, Richard Strauss, Adolf Strauss, Poulenc, RVW, Bishop, Warlock and Ireland.
Both musicians have an impeccable pedigree, Appl being one of Fischer-Dieskau’s last pupils and Baillieu a student of Graham Johnson. No wonder the Wigmore was packed. Appl’s Sony signing and accompanying make-over to make him look ‘street’ (as they used to say in South London) means he is aiming for a wider audience than the Wigmore lunchtime crowd.
Appl’s programme is bang on the Zeitgeist. He started with ‘Seligkeit’ – which I can’t imagine anyone in the audience had never heard before – both to establish his heritage and to show us it is possible to hear a familiar song as though for the first time. Schubert / Hölty tell of the bliss of staying put with the beloved; Appl and Bailieu had fun with rubato to make each tiny verse switch from urgent to pensive and back.
Last time I heard Benjamin Appl he stepped in at short notice with an all-Schubert programme and delighted us with long ballads and melodramas including a rollercoaster of ‘Der Erlkönig’ [review here]. This time the story he was telling was his own, which requires a lot more bravery. He introduced the programme saying ‘Heimat’ is a particularly German word that has resonances around identity and belonging as well as ‘home’ and this recital was his leaving one home and making another in London (and feeling very welcome here). Of course he follows the footsteps of so many others who left Central Europe (albeit in more awful circumstances) and made London their home, enriching our musical life.