Audiences in Vienna generally have a wide variety of concert options to choose from on any given evening, and for lovers of song tonight was particularly torn. Even though Simon Keenleyside and Emmanual Ax were performing Winterreise at the Musikverein, a few of us opted for the lesser known element and made our way to the Staatsoper to hear Ludovic Tézier and Thuy Anh Vuong give a song concert featuring six Duparc offerings, the Ravel Don Quichotte trio and Schumann’s Dichterliebe. Tézier, with his beautifully full, easy baritone sound and reputation for attention to diction, is a singer I have appreciated on stage for some time and was looking forward to his rising to the challenge of a solo evening with his audience, supported solely by one other musician and some of the most sublime literature to be found in the art song canon. I was also looking forward to finally find out who his partner in the endeavor would be, as until last week no mention of an accompanist was to be found on the Staatsoper website – an odd oversight for such a challenging program both in terms of ensemble and purely pianistically.

Ludovic Tézier
Ludovic Tézier

Tézier and Vuong took to the stage to a half full hall and opened with six masterpieces of French mélodie. Henri Duparc is famous for being such a perfectionist that he destroyed the greater part of his work, leaving to posterity a handful of songs which, despite their paltry number, are so incredible that he is unquestionably accepted into the canon of French song literature. Unfortunately, the majesty and variety of colour and depth of these beautiful works were not done justice by either singer or pianist. After an attempt at piano in the opening number, “L’invitation au voyage” which didn’t quite work, Tézier took the rest of the songs in a mezzo-something dynamic range which left one feeling as if all six were cut from rather the same cloth. Vuong, decidedly nervous, played so softly and without definition that the duo felt more like two individuals performing parallel to one another without ever truly connecting. Although certainly a capable and fleet-fingered pianist, Vuong failed to hold the attention of the audience for any length of time during the evening, a lacking dearly felt in a programme so rich in interlude, postludes and preludes as this one. Tézier did not seem any more confident or well-prepared. Besides a certain general lack of engagement and charisma, and occasionally singing with a certain lack of regard for his partner, he had scores in front of him the entire evening, which is odd for such a tonal programme of standard repertoire.

Things improved much as they moved to the Ravel. The three songs of Don Quichotte had several lovely and charming moments – the second movement, “Chanson épique” was one of the highlights of the evening as Tézier let his wonderful round voice fully bloom. After the intermission, however, things took a downturn when problems of ensemble, balance and homogeny were coupled with lack of textual clarity from Tézier and a lack of stylistic understanding from both throughout Dichterliebe. The duo did not consistently find common tempi, and there was a lack of stability – both in terms of tempo and articulation – throughout phrases and some very unstylistic vocal scooping made it clear that this repertoire was not an ideal choice for the pair, and certainly not when performing in Vienna at the Staatsoper.

Tézier and Vuong were called to the stage three times at the end of the programme where they gave three encores: repetitions of works from the evening’s program as, according to Tézier, there was nothing else they had found time to prepare. There really is nothing that can replace old-fashioned preparation, and I look forward to hearing both of these very talented artists another time, when they have more opportunity for it.