Valentine’s Day might have been over, but Dublin was certainly feeling the love for Sir Bryn Terfel on Friday in the National Concert Hall. And it looked as if the great man himself was enjoying himself enormously, wooing one and all with his voice, his wit and his characteristic charm. Joining him on stage was fellow Welshman, conductor Gareth Jones and from their onstage banter and the friendly dig Terfel gave Jones it was clear how well they knew one another. There was something in the programme for everyone, from serious Wagner through spirited Mozart to light-hearted Broadway hits. The first half was dedicated to Wagner with the two solos interspersed with preludes. The second half was both lighter in mood and featured more of Terfel, two things that seemed to please the audience.

Sir Bryn Terfel © Mitch Jenkins | DG
Sir Bryn Terfel
© Mitch Jenkins | DG

Opening with the Prelude to Act III from Lohengrin by Wagner, the RTÉ NSO provided a vibrant account with soaring strings and blazing brass. Both the energy and the excitement were palpable providing a wonderful warm-up for the audience. From the opening phrases of the “Flieder Monologue” from Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg it was clear that Terfel possessed an innate acting ability to enter into character immediately and to convincingly tell a story. His bass-baritone voice was ever deep and fulsome while his pronunciation in all languages was crisp and perfectly enunciated. The line “Es Klang so alt” was soulfully sung, and there was heartfelt sincerity in every syllable of “und wie er musst". Jones and the NSO provided a beautifully balanced and supportive account throughout.

The Ride of the Valkyries from Die Walküre showed the brass to be on terrific form, blasting out their menacing melody with fire and fury. Jones took firm control of the dynamics with dramatic crescendos and subito pianos. Wotan’s Farewell and Magic Fire Music concluded the first half. Here Terfel brought passion and poignancy to his farewell to Brünnhilde. Both regret and determination were imbued in the line “Muss ich dich meiden” while his description of her eyes and past achievement were all touchingly sung. Even on the softest of notes, Terfel managed with seeming ease to project his voice to the very back of the hall.

The second half opened with Tchaikovsky’s Polanaise from Eugen Onegin a piece the NSO has played several time in the last few months. There was plenty of oomph for the music of the ball, though the cello melody was too restrained, almost perfunctory.

Hardly had he reappeared on stage, than when Terfel launched into Mozart’s “Non più andrai” from The Marriage of Figaro. Here Terfel caught and brilliantly depicted the ironic mocking of Figaro’s berating of the page Cherubino. It was a joy to witness such a vivid characterisation with a golden voice to match. Mozart’s “Io ti lascio” was published posthumously and tells of the leave-taking of a loved one. Poignancy and love were all to the fore while Terfel allowed the beautiful melisma to hang in the air before returning to the opening phrase.

For the final few pieces, Terfel was in his element, chatting with the audience on stage, cracking jokes and charming us with excellent renditions of classic Broadway hits. Adopting a deep Southern accent, Terfel crooned his way through “O What a beautiful morning” by Rodgers and Hammerstein. His voice possessed a deep sepulchre note in the lower range in Lerner and Loewe’s “How to handle a Woman” from Camelot while he brought the house down with his excellent acting in “If I were a rich man” from Fiddler on the Roof. The audience in their delight wouldn’t let Terfel go until he had sung at least three encores.

****1