Insomnia: A Nocturnal Voyage in Song
Part of the fun in themed recitals comes from the selection and juxtaposition of the songs. William Berger’s ‘Insomnia’ is a compilation of songs on the theme of night, with the additional twist that the programme is plotted hour by hour from dusk to dawn. The late Romantic period seems to be a favourite, as Wolf and Fauré feature prominently, but space is also found for one of Richard Rodney Bennett’s Dream-Songs (happily remembered from last year’s Gramophone Awards-nominated NMC disc) and Raymond Yiu’s atmospheric ‘Sonnet’, specially commissioned for this programme at the Lucerne Festival.
Ironically, what is missing in the performances is a sense of peace and stillness. Berger has a warm, resonant baritone and an hour spent in its company is a pleasurable experience. But it is not often that he scales his singing down – the soft endings to Liszt’s ‘Oh! quand je dors’ and Strauss’s ‘Morgen’ are notable for being exceptions to the rule – and the feeling of a public event is accentuated by the recording venue. The Queen’s Hall in Edinburgh, familiar to any festival-goer, comes across as reverberant, making some of the busier songs, such as Schubert’s bracing ‘Auf der Bruck’, sound rather noisy. All this takes us a long way from the intimacy of, say, Bernard Kruysen in his Fauré mélodies. Still, there is much alert singing here and the partnership between Berger and Iain Burnside yields some fine performances along the way.