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No performer of classical music has as limited a home territory as the counter-tenor. From a repertoire with a tiny base, almost all of it in the Baroque era, he is expected to go out and conquer an audience as fearlessly as any soprano or tenor.
There comes a point where it is difficult even for the best counter-tenors to know where to go next. Andreas Scholl’s career has prospered thanks to the outstanding beauty of his voice, but he is not one of nature’s risk-takers. His caution as an actor has limited his appearances in the opera house and he has not ventured far into contemporary music, let alone the standard song repertoire, as his rival David Daniels has.
For Friday’s programme he stayed on home ground. A pair of Bach’s solo cantatas – Geist und Seele wird vewirret and the favourite Vergnügte Ruh – showed off his skills perfectly: the clarity of his German in recitative, the purity of sound on long notes, and the ease with which he negotiates Bach’s wandering lines. The simpler the music, the better the impression Scholl makes. At times one wishes he would just stand there and sing a single note.
None of that is to denigrate his partners here, the skilful Accademia Bizantina, conducted by Ottavio Dantone from the organ. They opened with Handel’s Concerto for Organ in F, Op.4. No.4 and began the second half with an unbridled performance of Bach’s Concerto for Two Violins, BWV 1043.
Next to them Scholl remained perfectly groomed and sober. It can be more difficult for counter-tenors than other voices to impart emotional intensity, but mezzos who sing these Bach cantatas have found a greater depth in them. Though his vocal beauty is still there to be admired, it is time for Scholl to leave his comfort zone.
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