We anticipated a Ukrainian barihunk singing Tchaikovsky, but ended up with an English rose singing Strauss. “Travel problems” detained Andrei Bondarenko from making his Wigmore Hall recital, his place taken at very short notice by Louise Alder, whom I last saw here in February. During the intervening months, Alder has been busy: a deserved finalist in the BBC Cardiff Singer of the World, winning the Audience Prize; releasing her first solo recording; singing a divine Sophie in WNO's Rosenkavalier. On Friday, she sang Marzelline at the Proms. Not a soprano to let the grass grow under her feet.

Louise Alder © Gerard Collett
Louise Alder
© Gerard Collett

Alder's recital was rich and varied, without duplicating anything from her February programme. A French and Italian first half gave way to Strauss and Britten in the second. She has remarkable poise for such a young performer. Singing without scores, often resting her right hand on the piano, she has a confident platform manner, surveying the audience and seemingly making eye contact with each and every one of us. Her singing is assured too – silvery rather than peaches and cream, but flecked with steel to give her essentially lyric soprano real dramatic edge in this small venue.

She was partnered by the excellent Gary Matthewman, originally scheduled for Bondarenko but a frequent Alder collaborator. It's impossible to convey the sheer sense of enjoyment Matthewman expressed in this programme. He is more than just an attentive accompanist, relishing the virtuosic opportunities in Liszt's Three Petrarch Sonnets, grinning impishly in Debussy's naughty Au clair de la lune quotation in the introduction to Pierrot. I've rarely seen a pianist have such fun in a song recital.

I could have listened to Alder sing Reynaldo Hahn all evening. Alas, we only had two numbers but her melting opening lines of À Chloris won me over immediately. Debussy's Quatre chansons de jeunesse provided her with the chance to display humour in lighter, brighter fare, as did a couple of Poulenc songs where Alder kept up with a torrent of text. Her Italian is inflected by rather English vowels at present, but the Liszt songs displayed no holds barred drama, especially the weighty chest register for the line “mi spiace morte e vita” in Pace non trovo. The third song, I'vidi in terra angelici costumi (Sonnet 123), ended with Alder tapering her soprano down to a beautifully veiled tone, Matthewman's postlude gloriously hushed.

Richard Strauss' sumptuous song repertoire fits Alder like a glove, from the three degrees of madness in the Ophelia songs to the comforting repose of Morgen, the latter the highlight of the entire evening, dreamily phrased (both soprano and pianist) and causing several dreamy sighs. Ständchen was bright-eyed and dewy-toned, Zueignung tender and sincere. Britten's verbose On this island, to poetry by W.H. Auden, is a harder challenge to bring off, and diction sometimes slipped in the higher reaching passages. Nocturne came off best, its sinister undertones weighing heavily in the dark colouring of the closing stanza. The bittersweet comedy of George from William Bolcom's Cabaret Songs made a fitting encore to this polished, wide-ranging recital.