In review: Alek Shrader at Wigmore HallReview
The pair delivered a subtle, smart programme, mixing in moments of tenorial fireworks among more understated sets with evocative texts. Shrader filled Wigmore Hall with the first notes of Stravinksy’s “Here I Stand,” from The Rake’s Progress; there was a friendly American bite to his sound, reminiscent of Jerry Hadley at times.
Shrader and Vignoles gave us the UK premiere of Iain Bell’s The Undying Splendour, a set which had its world premiere at Carnegie Hall in 2013, also sung by Shrader. The writing is warm and conversational, making us think of Britten and Vaughan Williams, and the texts by John William Streets meandered in a beautiful way. Virgil Thomson’s Mostly about love seemed to bring us closer to Shrader, with its sweet and honest texts by Kenneth Koch; Shrader seemed connected with the odd poetry, which read like rambling monologues.
It was refreshing to hear so much English in a song recital, almost whetting our appetites for the two arias that closed the first half. Fenton’s aria from Nicolai’s Die lustigen Weiber von Windsor brought out a bigger, meatier sound from Shrader, yet he seemed to be working hard. There were moments of freedom in his voice that gave a thrilling effect, yet some of the long phrases, meant to sound easy and floaty, took effort.
Between the Nicolai and his next aria, Belmonte’s “Ich baue ganz auf deine Stärke” from Die Entführung aus dem Serail, Shrader admitted to the audience that he was feeling slightly under the weather. Still, he seemed to find much more freedom in Belmonte, and showed some of his signature agility. At the piano, Vignoles seemed to bring out new, hidden lines, and he struck a thoughtful balance of pianist and orchestra.
The second half was lovely, and more personal, filled with two Handel arias, sets by Samuel Barber and Stephen Foster, and Rossini’s fun “La danza” (where we caught some of his well-honed sense of comedy). Shrader gave physical hints that he wasn’t entirely happy with the sounds coming out of his mouth, yet he had the audience completely on his side. The nerves he may have felt, and the body language that hinted at his eagerness for a quick exit stage left, they were all deeply endearing.
There seemed to be two versions of Alek Shrader, one who was invested in singing well and communicating deeply, and another who was humble, perhaps a bit shy, and who relished the chance to move the spotlight onto Vignoles for the fun piano part in Rossini’s tarantella. Combined, the two versions of Shrader seemed to draw us in, and give us a truly honest picture of an artist at work. The audience pulled an encore out of him, Barber’s “Sure on this Shining Night,” which was a touching end to what had become an intimate evening of music.