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Forbidden Fruit

Benjamin Appl (baritone), James Baillieu (piano) (Alpha Classics)

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

Forbidden Fruit
Arias and songs by Gurney, Hahn, Poulenc, R Strauss, Weill, Wolf et al
Benjamin Appl (baritone), James Baillieu (piano)
Alpha Classics ALPHA912   69:38 mins

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In Oscar Wilde’s Lady Windermere’s Fan Lord Darlington famously observes that he can ‘resist everything except temptation’. Benjamin Appl might second that. Punning on the sound of his name, the baritone’s latest album harvests a rich crop of forbidden fruit in an exuberant exploration of desire and temptation, indulgence and transgression. The sheer breadth and ingenuity of the programming is, well… irresistible. Its execution is just as persuasive as singer and pianist navigate a slalom of styles that straddles Schubert and Gurney to Hahn and Jake Heggie – not forgetting the cabaret insouciance of Marlene Dietrich as channelled through Leonello Casucci’s ‘Just a Gigolo’.

Buttressing the narrative of the ‘fall from grace’, Appl inserts spoken snippets from the Book of Genesis between some of the numbers; and ‘paradise lost’ is ‘regained’ at the end with a piano arrangement of the ‘In Paradisum’ from Fauré’s Requiem and a heart-stoppingly absorbed and absorbing Urlicht from Mahler’s Symphony No. 2.

Of course not everything in the Edenic garden is rosy. Eisler’s ‘Paragraph 218’ tackles abortion and want in 1920s Germany, while Wolf’s restrainedly refulgent ‘Ganymed’ is artfully juxtaposed with Weill’s rangy ‘Youkali’. But Appl takes every stylistic gear change in his discerningly characterised stride. Poulenc’s saucily salacious ‘L’offrande’ is sealed with a suggestively puttering sigh; Baillieu idiomatically indulges Schoenberg’s unexpected flirtation with seductive schmalz; and the erotic languor of Debussy’s ‘Le Chevelure’ hangs in the air, beckoning enticingly. Forbidden, yet seldom forbidding, Appl’s exquisitely cultivated fruits are ripe for plucking, and deserve to be consumed with unalloyed relish!

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Paul Riley