ALBUM TITLE: Gods & Monsters
WORKS: Songs by Beethoven, Brahms, Mahler, Mendelssohn, Schubert, Schumann, Brahms and Wolf
PERFORMER: Nicholas Phan (tenor), Myra Huang (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: AV 2368
From creepy Grimm-style fairytales to the idyll of Ancient Greece; American lyric tenor Nicholas Phan’s fourth solo disc sees his first venture into the German ballad repertoire. This recital – inspired by Phan’s recent work with children – is dedicated to storytelling.
The programme is in four parts. It opens with ‘Mount Olympus’, four of Schubert’s Greek myth songs. Then follows ‘Knights and Kings’, an unusual set of Schubert, Brahms, Mahler and Beethoven. The third section, ‘Things that Go Bump in the Night’, treats supernatural topics. Finally, ‘Fairytales’ includes Schumann’s delightful Der Sandmann and three characteristically witty songs by Wolf. Brahms’s Sandmännchen, a tender lullaby arranged for Robert Schumann’s children, lulls us at the close.
In this repertoire, the devil is in the detail. Phan has a beautifully sweet tone, but his vibrato can be distractingly unruly, and there are various slips in his German. More importantly, though, both artists handle songs like Schubert’s terrifying Der Zwerg or Wolf’s Feuerreiter too tamely. These forays into the sinister side of this repertoire need more bite in the sound, risk with the text, and flexibility with the score.
Still, it is good to hear a male singer perform Brahms’s Es war ein Markgraf überm Rhein and Mendelssohn’s Hexenlied, and Huang’s fleet fingers make light of some fearsomely virtuosic accompaniments. At his best, Phan offers some exquisitely calibrated soft singing supported by a rich acoustic and crystal-clear sound.