“Make my bed soon, for I’m sick to my heart, and I fain wad lie down”, so ends each chorus of the Anglo-Scottish border ballad Lord Randall. And while the narrator of this text is actually suffering after having been poisoned by his malevolent lover, Andreas Scholl may have understood the sentiment all too well as he dolefully crooned the ballad at the Park Avenue Armory on Sunday afternoon. Inhibited by a cold and unable to give a full 100%, Andreas Scholl pulled off a solid 99 in a recital of early English music with harpsichordist Tamar Halperin. For someone of his high artistic caliber, the audience feels not disappointment or anger, but instead compassion for the wounded knight.

Andreas Scholl © James McMillan
Andreas Scholl
© James McMillan

The unifying fiber of the program stressed the duality that exists between exact (classical) music and folk music. Composers John Dowland, Thomas Campion, Robert Johnson, William Byrd, and Henry Purcell did not write as “exact-ly” as, say, Richard Strauss, but they still exist in a line of composers who utilized written notation. The first three Dowland lute songs (Flow, my tears; Come again; I saw my lady weep) comprised a nebulous fragment, unbound by time as Halperin's introductions and interludes linked the triad. These harpsichord moments seemed carefully planned, but overall gave the effect of extemporized development. Scholl lamented beautifully with that same mythical sound that brought Hades to tears, focussed and pristine.

Scholl briefly pulled out his baritone voice for Man is for the woman made, an artistic choice he credited to his teacher who said it was meant to be a surly drinking song. His diction was surprisingly German-sounding in this register, and it was hard not to imagine Scholl leading the song atop a wooden table in a crowded pub.

Halperin also indulged in a two keyboard solos, including a wickedly awesome performance of Byrd’s harpsichord solo from the Fantasia in A minor. Halperin’s highly virtuosic keyboard playing was impressive and also provided a slight divertissement from the dreary texts (e.g. In darkness let me dwell).

Subtly diverging from the penned songs, Scholl conveyed his enthusiasm for folk songs of the oral tradition (King Henry; Lord Randall; I will give my love an apple) through optimistic interpretations in spite of their often morbid texts. Scholl and Halperin took liberties to birth novel renditions of these songs: Scholl varied the text with various musical characters while Halperin changed textures through use of manual stops to change the color of verses.

Scholl’s performance of Lord Randall was by far the best on the program. Built on a dark story arch, it recounts the tale of a man who has been poisoned by his lover and his mother who tries to get him to tell her who will inherit his possessions. The ballad's form has been adapted throughout history, notably in Bob Dylan's A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall. Scholl's interpretation was calm and falsely cheerful, leaving the audience in awe-struck silence.

Scholl and Halperin make a marvelous duo, and it's a thrilling experience being in the same room with a musician as adept as Scholl. One hopes his next New York visit is in full health so we can hear the genius at 100%.