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Music review: Bryn Terfel at Walt Disney Concert Hall

November 23, 2010 |  2:00 pm

Now and then, Los Angeles gets to experience the towering, endlessly pliable bass-baritone of Bryn Terfel on an operatic stage, most memorably in the title role of Verdi’s “Falstaff” at L.A. Opera in 2005.  For his Walt Disney Concert Hall debut Monday night (he’ll be back this weekend singing Wagner with Esa-Pekka Salonen and the Los Angeles Philharmonic), we heard the intimate side of Terfel: a song recital with just the reliably discreet piano of his longtime accompanist Malcolm Martineau.  

Terfel Yet Terfel the showman would not be contained for long within this format, and the program was carefully shaped to bring it out. 

With Schumann's bicentennial in mind, Terfel devoted the first half to a selection of the composer’s lieder –- the romantic song cycle “Liederkreis,” “Die beiden Grenadiere” -– with its martial premonitions of Mahler’s “Wunderhorn” songs and direct quote of “La Marseillaise” –- “Belsatzar” and “Mein Wagen rollet langsam.”  Terfel and Martineau recorded almost all of these songs 10 years ago, and it was fascinating to hear how freely Terfel does them now, with far more rubato and a wider, more expressive range of vocal color.  There was also a touch of comic theater in “Mein Wagen,” with Terfel gesturing and walking offstage as Martineau finished the coda alone.

Terfel displayed his crystal-clear English diction and a sometimes breezy touch in Gerald Finzi’s gorgeous settings of Shakespeare, “Let Us Garlands Bring.”  In Ibert’s “Don Quichotte” cycle, Terfel confronted the ghost of the Russian basso Feodor Chaliapin –- for whom these songs were written –- taking a somewhat gentler approach.

In the end, show time came to Disney Hall as Terfel revived the memory of the once-popular Welsh American baritone John Charles Thomas –- who, like Terfel, didn’t hesitate to cross stylistic boundaries.  He sang several songs once associated with Thomas –- including a robust, embellished rendition of “When the Night Wind Howls” from Gilbert and Sullivan’s “Ruddigore” and the rollicking “The Green-Eyed Dragon” –- and kept up an engaging running narrative of Thomas’ career as a connecting thread.  He even got the audience to sing along with “Home on the Range” –- leave it to a Welshman to find the beauty in this homely tune. By evening’s end, everyone was won over.

-– Richard S. Ginell

Bryn Terfel with Esa-Pekka Salonen and the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Walt Disney Concert Hall, 111 S. Grand Ave., downtown L.A.; 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday; $23.75-$177; (323) 850-2000 or


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