Classical review: Toby Spence/Julian Milford, Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh

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IT WAS serious stuff at the Queen’s Hall from tenor Toby Spence and pianist Julius Milford. In a programme of all German Lieder, Beethoven’s An die ferne Geliebte – To the distant loved one – was probably the least known music of the three composers heard, Mahler and Schumann tending to be recurring favourites for these morning vocal recitals.

Toby Spence/Julian Milford

Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh

Star rating: * * * *

The first significant song cycle in the genre’s history, and the only one by Beethoven, the half dozen settings of Alois Jeitteles were compelling in Spence and Milford’s conception of them.

Applying an exceptional intelligence to his singing, Spence married the music and words to be as one holistic entity in a genuinely moving approach which carried through with great success to Milford’s finely honed accompaniment.

In five songs from Des Knaben Wunderhorn, Mahler’s strangely disturbing pieces inspired by German folk-poetry, one or two higher notes seemed to stretch Spence’s range.

There is remarkable fluidity and flexibility to his voice, though, which came into its own in stunningly controlled long, drawn out soft notes.

Occasionally, Schumann’s Dichterliebe sounded pushed, and generally less settled than the duo’s first half, but its dreamy wistfulness was spellbinding in effect.