Alek Shrader’s Wigmore Hall debut was thrilling, touching, charming and mysterious. He, and curiously enough the acclaimed accompanist Roger Vignoles, got off to a jittery start with Stravinsky’s Here I stand. This may be an ambitious piece to start with in that the voice tends to rattle through it rather than settle. He still looked a bit like a rabbit in the headlights with his last (five spoken) words ‘I wish I had money’, but nerves settled in a trio of evocative first world war songs by Iain Bell, A lark above the trenches. By song number two, Shrader really got into his stride, revealing abundant colour to his upper and lower registers although there was a tendency to tighten in the passagio, and when he relaxed he tended to bleat.

Alek Shrader © Peter Schaaf
Alek Shrader
© Peter Schaaf
Being part of the Rosenblatt concert series, it seems Alek Shrader took on Ian Rosenblatt’s vision: ‘My plan was to present a series of recitals by singers in programmes of their choosing, that would act as a showcase for them’.   Shrader’s was a daringly versatile programme and a musical discovery and highlight for me were four Virgil Thomson songs, Mostly about love from 1959.  Shrader blossomed.  Before our very eyes his articulation triumphed, he was note perfect and he was both convincingly earnest and humorous.

The penultimate piece before the interval was Horch, die Lerche singt im Hain from The Merry Wives of Windsor by Otto Nicolai. This needed vocal elevation from Shrader. The tessitura lies high, the breath control demanding and by the end of it he was struggling although it’s unclear why. He’s a young artist making his Wigmore debut and the ‘dry dome’ of this hall with the lights blazing down on him would contribute to this. He bravely took matters into his hands and announced that he had ‘a little cold and would do much better in the second half’.  The hall unanimously melted, and forgave and forgot that devilishly difficult aria Ich baue ganz auf deine Starke from Entführung which inopportunely finished the first half.

True to his word, Shrader strode back onto the stage and took us firmly by the scruff of the neck with Handel’s Where’er you walk- we purred; the security in his voice had returned allowing him to float the legato lines, his trills twirled, confidence and good looks returned in spades and he looked relieved – he’s a charming performer who wears his emotions on his sleeve, an endearing quality.

The following three Barber songs are hardly going to set the Thames on fire, indeed Now I have fed and eaten up the rose seemed to be sung entirely on one note……. although A Green Lowland of Pianos revealed ringing top notes. 

By changing the order of the three enchanting Stephen Foster songs, Shrader had to announce the song Beautiful Dreamer would now come after I cannot sing tonight – we smiled. 

Barbaro fato, si from Handel’s Partenope was a curious choice in that it lies rather low for him but he reached a climactic peak with Rossini’s La danza.  Both Shrader and Roger Vignoles went for it, demonstrating superb Italian and technical assurance – the audience erupted, the roof stayed on, and they returned for an encore of Barber’s Sure on this Shining Night.

Alek Shrader inadvertently delivered us a double whammy. By choosing such a challenging programme which showed us all his tricks, he probably stretched himself one step too far  (with or without the little cold).  But he handled this in such way that we were enraptured not just by his talent but also by his honesty and intelligence.