Review Willard White & Eugene Asti Wigmore Hall, London by James Ellis

Photo credit: David Levene

 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

It was smiling all round with Sir William White at Wigmore Hall. Joined by the full-bodied force of Eugene Asti as accompanist, things went down very smoothly.

Sir Willard recounted, with the first song when he was in school and the promise of a young singer. Noticed by a teacher with a good ear, him singing Schubert’s and Silvia would catch anyone off guard, his wonderous bass-baritone voice is so satisfying. Roger Quilter and his Come Away Death followed keeping with a sombre tone. More thrills with Samuel Barber with a stellar Sure on this Shining Night and Promiscuity. The latter was so much of Charles Ives, brief, funny, weird and more. Some Vaughan Williams and his Songs of Travel highlights also stood out. The English air shining through, folk like charms ever present.

The Old American Songs from Aaron Copland, saw a selection of thrills. The Dodger sees a busker touting for cash, Simple Gifts (a Copland favourite) never fails in its loveliness. The infectious melody had weight, Copland recycling it for Appalachian Spring, one of his ballets. Being told the next song was “silly”, I bought me a cat is also a laugh and Willard never one to listen to nonsense, was glad to see we enjoyed this nursery-rhyme like ditty. Bernstein’s rare outing of his early musical Peter Pan saw two songs: Who am I? and My House. I’ve given less love to these songs in the past, though Willard’s ringing, warm voice makes them worthwhile.

Choices from South Pacific and Carousel continued the musical theatre theme. Some Enchanted Evening stood out for its beefy delivery and pleasing melodic structure. The festive side of things came with a selection of spirituals Deep River in an arrangement by Carl Davis as one fine example. Proud Jamaican and Brit, Willard must have sung these innumerable times, I saw teary eyes in one of them. They took away some of the stuffy nature of the concert hall and brought much cheer. An encore of Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas has now official brought me into the holiday season. I best get shopping…

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