Bryn Terfel is indisputably one of the great voices singing today. His resplendent bass-baritone is a force of nature. A few interpretive quibbles aside, his Schubert Club recital at the Ordway Wednesday night featured some of the most audience-pleasing singing of the season.
The first half of the program consisted of English songs from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. This repertoire -- works by John Ireland, Frederick Keel and Roger Quilter -- is unfairly neglected on recital programs. Two songs by Ralph Vaughan Williams were as finely wrought as any works in the art-song repertoire.
Terfel obviously loves this music. There was in his performance the sheer joy of music-making. He sang with a glint in his eye and in his voice.
He was a musical storyteller. Some of the effects he used in service of the drama -- exaggerated dynamics, overarticulated vowels, excessive crooning -- might be considered crude. But his diction was impeccable, and when he restrained himself, he sang alternately with great wit and great longing.
Peter Warlock's "Captain Stratton's Fancy" typified his performance style. The reading was rambunctious and over the top, but full of character, reminiscent of Terfel's performance as Falstaff in Verdi's opera.
The repertoire in the second half was more familiar. A bravura Handel aria demonstrated Terfel's facility for coloratura, but the performance was overly aggressive for the gentle aria. There was likewise a lack of elegance in the Mozart concert aria "Io ti lascio, o cara, addio." Terfel had a hard time scaling back his big voice.
In four songs by Franz Schubert and a set by Gabriel Fauré, he was on firmer artistic footing. He sang with a gentle lyricism and real elegance. From the folk song-like naiveté of Schubert's "Heidenröslein" to the deeply felt religiosity of his "Litany for the Feast of All Souls" and the powerful passion of Fauré's "Fleur Jetée," he was the stylistic master.
In accompanist Malcolm Martineau, Terfel had a strong collaborator. Their long partnership was evident from the almost intuitive communication between them. Martineau played with great delicacy, infusing even the subtlest moments with drama.
The recital concluded with a series of Celtic songs, including the familiar "Loch Lomond," "Danny Boy" and "All Through the Night." These were among the most admirable renditions of the evening, straightforward and unsentimental in their simplicity.
William Randall Beard is a Minneapolis writer.