Homage À Trois
William Berger is a South African baritone currently living in the UK and enjoying an ever-growing international career. Here on his second solo disc, for Linn Records, he offers an extremely attractive selection of 18th-century operatic arias, and four duets also featuring the soprano Carolyn Sampson. Six items from five Haydn operas – L’isola disabitata, L’anima del filosofo, Armida, Orlando paladino and La vera costanza – dominate the programme, alongside Cimarosa’s sparkling 20-minute operatic intermezzo Il maestro di cappella. Berger’s Mozart roles – Count Almaviva, Don Giovanni, Guglielmo, best of all Papageno – also get a useful showing.
The Scottish Chamber Orchestra’s characterful accompaniments under Nicholas McGegan’s expert baton prove advantageous at every turn. Berger’s agile, lyrical high baritone is also impressive, with top notes almost tenorially easy. His quick intelligence and alert musicianship
is most clearly on display in the gentle cantabile of Creon’s ‘Il pensiero sta negli oggetti’ from Haydn’s L’anima del filosofo.
Unfortunately, the recording enters a crowded, distinction-filled field – Haydn’s baritone roles are now better represented in the catalogue than a few years ago – and at times the gritty tone that Berger’s voice produces under pressure becomes impossible to ignore. The interpretations come across as uniformly lightweight, in both good and less good senses. I hate to be discouraging about so obviously talented a performer, but his project, at this stage in his career, strikes me as being premature.