Mark RudioSingers

Recital redux: Christopher Maltman

Mark RudioSingers
Christopher Maltman: Photo from San Francisco Performances

As we were leaving Christopher Maltman's recital at Herbst last night, The Swede remarked how much he enjoyed the last song. I replied that I liked it too, and that I had recently just heard it somewhere else, though at the moment I couldn't remember where- perhaps it was it used in a film I'd recently seen? Only later did it come to me it was the same song Susan Graham used last Saturday night to end her recital in Berkeley- "À Chloris."

Also the same was the accompanist for the two performances- Malcolm Martineau, who again was a tremendous asset to the singer.

I also had a similar feeling to the one I had after Graham's recital- that while Maltman was certainly an impressive singer, his performance didn't connect with me much beyond a display of his obvious abilities. There were more similarities, truth be told, but I don't want to belabor the point nor do I think it fruitful to compare two artists with very different careers.

Maltman is better known in Europe than in the States, and although San Francisco Performances has presented him twice before, his only turn on the War Memorial's stage was in the 2007 run of Die Zauberflote, in which he sang Papageno. I remember that run, because there was "The Magic Flute for Families" presented during it, which delighted the two little girls I escorted, and I recall thinking at the time it was a shame the main cast wasn't having all of this fun with these kids. Runnicles certainly seemed to be enjoying himself. Knowing now he's the father of three sons, I'm sure Maltman would have as well. Sorry, I'm way off topic here.

I bring up the European vs. Stateside exposure only because the first half of the program was put together at the request of Venetians, for whom it was originally performed, and it consisted of songs about- yes, that's right-  songs about Venice. Composed by Europeans. Who weren't Venetians. Maltman said later in the night it was difficult to find a lot of material to fill the request, but managed to find about 40 minutes of it composed by Fauré, Schumann, Schubert, Mendelssohn and Hahn. The songs by Fauré and Hahn worked well, especially the latter's, though during Fauré's songs there were two exquisite moments; the first being the elegant and extended finish of "En Sourdine," and the way Maltman let his voice soar during "C'est l'extase." The final "ah" of Hahn's "La Barcheta" left an impression that could be felt throughout the audience and Maltman seemed to truly enjoy singing "La primavera." But the German songs felt like they were composed by tourists who really had no insight into what they were writing about, no doubt in part because a song about a gondolier sounds absurd when it's sung in German. The disconnect between the subject matter and the material was exacerbated by Maltman's lack of engagement with the audience during the first half- he spoke no words and sang every song to one person seated in the center of the last row of the orchestra section, only smiling during the applause between cycles.

He warmed up during the second half, first graciously thanking SF Performances for how they handled his earlier cancellation and then saying how nice it was to be back in San Francisco- a city which he's been fond of since he first visited us at the age of 10. Then he announced he and Martineau were going to change the order of the program, putting Schubert's "Drei Gasänge" before Schubert's "Three Rückert Lieder." This turned out to be a wise decision, as the songs now being performed first were a kind of potpourri of Schubert sounding like Weber, Haydn and Rossini (Maltman's description), while the three lieder are, well, Schubert lieder. Since Schubert's"Three Rückert Lieder" was to be followed by Mahler's "Rückert Lieder," of which there are five, a sort of arc could be established that wouldn't have worked had the program been performed as originally planned- eight Rückert Lieder in a row. While all of this was going on I was wondering why the songs of the first half were about Venice if Maltman likes San Francisco so much? I was also puzzled by the cut and style of Maltman's tux, which The Swede assured me was "in the European style."

The Rückert lieder were the highlight of the program, closing on a marvelous note as Martineau held the end of "Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen "I am lost to the world" for full dramatic effect.

Waiting for the encore, I was thinking that while I enjoyed the Rückerts immensely, there was strangely little I heard in the performance that compelled me to want to hear Maltman in an opera. This thought changed immediately with the first encore, the Doge's aria from Verdi's I due Foscari (yet another Venetian number), which Maltman delivered with verve and passion, even if he was still singing to the person in the back row. He followed this with a song about Naples, the name of which I didn't catch, and then, as mentioned, finished the performance with "À Chloris."

Walking home, I noticed a hooker who has worked Hemlock alley for years had taken up a new spot at Hyde and O'Farrell and wondered if she didn't want to walk the extra blocks to her usual spot because of the rain.