William Berger - Scottish Chamber Orchestra - Hommage a Trois - Gramophone

The ‘three' in question are Haydn, Mozart and - courtesy of a large chunk from Il maestro di cappella - Cimarosa. It's a varied, unclichéd programme, ranging from the ultra-familiar to the barely known. The rising South African baritone William Berger immediately sets out his stall in the opening aria from Haydn's L'isola disabitata, singing with firm, mellow tone, bright, ringing top notes and a care for evenness of line. Choosing an expansive tempo, he gives Creonte's lyrical ‘Il pensier sta negli ogetti' an unusually elegiac tinge. At the other end of the spectrum, Berger brings a vivid ‘face' to the absurd Villotto's ‘Non sparate' (La vera costanza), abetted by rhythmically zestful playing from the SCO.

Of the Mozart items, Don Giovanni's champagne aria is well sung but a tad eautious, though in fairness the Don's whirlwind credo always suffers when torn out of context. Nor is the Serenade as alluring as it can be. But Berger impresses as a suave Count in Figaro, and in Guglielmo's mock-heroic catalogue aria ‘Rivolgete', both of which display his free top register. He is a distinctly upmarket Papageno in two duets with the delightful Carolyn Sampson, never sacrificing tone for comic effect. He resists the temptation to ham up the pompous singer-conductor in the extra from Cimarosa's intermezzo Il maestro di cappella. This send-up of an orchestral rehearsal, 18th-century operatic comedy at its most naïve, can easily become a bore. Avoiding crude caricature, Berger, McGegan and the ever-alert players get it just right: an entertaining send-off to a beautifully recorded recital that enhances the young baritone's credentials as fine Classical stylist.

04 March 2014