What I wasn’t expecting when I attended this Richard Tauber Prize recital was that it would be the final recital in the history of the competition and after 30 recipients since 1951 it will be rolled into the Wigmore Hall International Song Competitions from 2013. The new Prize will be awarded for the best interpretation of Schubert lieder and it will not carry a Wigmore Hall recital as part of it anymore. A slightly sad but also a good chance to look through the list of the singers that received it over the years, some went on to great careers and some sank without a trace.
Jung Soo Yun fresh out of Opera Holland Park’s Pearl Fishers gave a charming and at times arresting performance. Not a singer to exude ego or unshakable, bombastic over-confidence, but more of an at ease generosity.
His Schubert songs went past in a flash and his voice did not make for a classic combination of material and texture. Sometimes these songs can turn a little be too polite and knowingly elegant and my personal taste veers on wanting a more gritty, more assertive sound.
His Strauss songs, especially Die Nacht showed his impressive ability to shape and colour phrases into an evocative mix of picture making prowess and animated evocation. His open eyed eagerness when singing Nichts had that fresh quality only a younger singer can bring, a feel of young love and melancholy. For Die Georgine he successfully managed to pull back some ardency to allow the lyrical flow to emerge and display a more demure personality in his singing.
The songs by Tosti were a late addition to the programme from what was previously advertised and I can declare him my least favourite art song composer. So was not particularly looking forward to those three songs. But they were proven a great vehicle to display his punchy squillo in Non t’amo più projecting with clarity and ringing sonorities, raising the material above its banal footing. For Ideale depending on his affable stage presence he also impressed with some very italianate rolled Rs in the pivotal line Torna, caro ideal, torna un instante adding a delicious sharpness to it.
It is always enjoyable when a singer picks songs from their own culture and language to sing in recitals and the two Korean songs were so much fun and extroverted that gave a triumphant closing to the song part of the recital before giving way to the two arias. Especially the Sailor’s Song elicited a lot of laughs of admiration and recognition by the numerous Koreans in the audience.
The two arias were by far the most evocative and interpretative complete items. His Faust was elegant and beautifully projected accompanied by great finesse. The attention to the gentle phrasing and the open throated, secure production was a joy to listen to. His Kuda kuda was restrained and filled with dignity and passion. The reflective mood making for a great end to a recital. He may not have the fetching appearance of Pavol Breslik in the recent ROH Onegin but he definitely can deliver the complex lustful shady world of this aria to good advantage.
Joseph Middleton’s accompaniment was unshowy and communicative without sounding routine. Never trying to overshadow but a team player offering support and propulsion.
His encore Dein ist mein ganzes herz was dedicated to Tauber and sung with great beauty and bounce and the second one was The Lord’s Prayer in Korean, which you can listen to in the curtain call video below. Based on this fetching recital I wish I had seen his Nadir at Holland Park but it is one of those operas that rarely appeals. His Royal Opera debut is coming up this autumn in Les Vêpres Siciliennes directed by Stefan Herheim and will be great to see him as part of such an ensemble cast in a fairly rare opera by Verdi. Another young singer to add to the list of up and coming new stars.
Curtain Call Video