William Berger - Scottish Chamber Orchestra - Hommage a Trois - International Record Review
William Berger is a name/baritone new to me; I understand that he is South African and based in Great Britain. As it turns out, the ‘trois' refers to Haydn, Mozart and Cimarosa. Aside from Cimarosa's Il Maestro di cappella, a long, comic monologue in which the ‘maestro' upbraids and ‘teaches' his orchestra, each of the arias and duets (with Carolyn Sampson) finds the characters in one stage of another of love - seduction, jealousy, amazement, and, in the case of the arias from Haydn's L'isola disabitata and Armida, friendship. Berger's voice is light, more potent at the top than the lower reaches, rich and expressive in the middle, agile enough for both coloratura and trills. His sexy pleading as the Count in ‘Crudel! Perche finora' is warm and convincing and Sampson is an utterly convincing Susanna. I can't recall hearing this duet, or the Count's big aria that follows, sung as smoothly and with as much character. The Finnish baritone Jorma Hynninen came close, but Berger is more treacherous, with an audible sneer, and an absolutely spotless run leading up to a spot-on high F-sharp at the aria's close.
‘Den vieni...' is smooth and alluring and sung with a ravishing legato...Guglielmo's ‘Rivolgete a lio lo sguardo' is gorgeous, the mood switches delineated well and the outcome heroic. He is the most delightful of Papagenos, with Sampson lovely as both Pamina and Papagena, and his tone-painting very different from one duet to the next...he will probably excel in some of the French repertoire as his tone ripens.
...his wit, grace and charm are all in evidence, and, frankly the flirtatious duet from Orlando Paladino is a sexy little piece, well worth hearing again. Berger makes the most of each aria...The Cimaora is a ‘stunt' piece, a showpiece for bass-baritone that I have only previously had with plenty of exaggerated mugging - what a joy it is to hear Berger sing every note and articulate every word (his diction is impeccable).
Nicholas McGegan leads with total understanding and support and the modern-instrument Scottish Chamber Orchestra plays with perfect eighteenth-century style. This is not your run-of-the-mill recital - it has personality, it is thought-through and is vastly musical and entertaining. The sound is clean and clear and the intelligently written accompanying booklet also includes text and translations.