Jacques Imbrailo (pictured) is a name that is probably unknown to most South African music lovers, but in a recital for the Friends of Music at the Durban Jewish Centre he showed that he is a baritone singer of the top rank.

He has a strong South African background. He was a pupil for some years at the Drakensberg Boys’ Choir School – he started his musical life as a boy soprano – and he has degrees in law and music from Potchefstroom University.

He went to England nearly 10 years ago to study at the Royal College of Music and since then he has built a big reputation in opera and as a concert singer.

Accompanied at the piano by Bonita Ziegelmeier, who is on the staff of Kearsney College, he presented in Durban a programme that was well off the beaten track, with a strong emphasis on early 20th-century English music; not everybody’s cup of tea, but his sheer artistry carried a large audience with him all the way.

He has a relaxed, unaffected stage presence and a really big voice, powerful, accurate, resonant.

He has the professional polish acquired with careful training: well-judged phrasing, a calm demeanour and controlled dynamics, the strong tone sometimes dropping to a lovely pianissimo.

He opened with Ralph Vaughan-Williams’ nine Songs of Travel, written between 1901 and 1904, atmospheric pieces of varied mood. They were delivered with authority and affection.

Ziegelmeier was a discreet and accomplished piano partner here, as she was throughout the evening.

Moving to the different world of late German romanticism, Imbrailo sang three songs by Richard Strauss with emotion and style.

Then came another change of scene with Liszt’s Three Petrarch Sonnets¸, written in 1839 and better known as piano solos.

This beautiful music breathes the spirit of Renaissance Italy, and Imbrailo extracted full value from its long melodic lines.

Finally we were given six songs from the cycle called A Shropshire Lad by George Butterworth, who was killed in World War I at the age of 31.

They are settings of poems by A E Housman and they are poignant, elegant and melancholy, in a way a summation of the composer’s brief life.

I don’t think the audience went home after this concert humming the tunes, but they will remember the singer.

The prelude performers of the evening were staff and pupils from Kearsney College, instrumentalist and singers, performing Bach and traditional Christmas songs. – Artsmart.co.za