CONCERT: Bryn Terfel, bass-baritone; Nina Schumann, piano

PROGRAMME: Popular Celtic songs and others by Rodgers and Hammerstein, Ireland, Schubert, Keel, et al, plus Bad Boys of Opera

VENUE: Linder auditorium, Parktown, Johannesburg

RATING: *****

Living for the voice and making it a rare instrument of power, beauty, and especially a high level of vocal expression, are among the extraordinary artistic features of the Jones boy from Pant Glas, Caernarfonshire, northern Wales, universally known as Bryn Terfel.

At 48 he is at the crest of his career. In human terms he has far more than just the potential to stay there for a couple of decades, or even more.

His enveloped artistic integrity will secure it.

Listening to a voice of such wealth is a unique experience and totally fulfilling, since only a handful of artistic ventures can compare with the interpersonal and at times also the direct emotional impact a song can have on the listener’s psyche.

There’s nothing strange about the fact that it’s been said that the voice is the muscle of the soul.

This Terfel already demonstrated fully in his opening song, Some Enchanted Evening from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific.

Never or extremely seldom does one hear such incomparable fluency in the phrasing and melodic line, in the ever-changing dynamic levels of his expression, and in the way the clarity and total naturalness of his detailed diction come over.

Those pianissimos are to die for.

Terfel’s animated approach to songs as widely diverse as those by John Ireland and Schubert made them alive and picturesque.

Here Terfel, the operatic master, operates in a smaller scale, but still subtly wants to bring the visual message underlying the texts over in a well-known lied like Schubert’s Die Forelle.

This trout is no doubt sharp and alert.

In the same composer’s more intimate Aus dem Wasser zu singen and Litanei Terfel fulfils every aspect in terms of vibrant timbres, immaculate line, dynamic control, his insights into the poems’ meaning and suggestive story-telling where that’s called for.

In Ireland’s dramatic Vagabond one could see this figure standing through Terfel’s suggestive strength and the vividness of his communication.

Throughout the group of Celtic songs, among which we also found well-known ones like Danny Boy, Loch Lamond and Molly Malone, it was always the singer’s artistically perfect sense of rapture or, on the other side of the spectrum, a quiet sentimental meandering which managed to bring us into every aspect of the musical “picture”.

Terfel’s total communicate dedication to his audience includes the telling of relevant anecdotes about singers, composers, teachers and perhaps lesser-known facts like this one: “Who are the Irish? They were Welshmen that could swim…”

The Frederick Keel group of songs were enchanting in the bass-baritone’s deeply felt approach to them.

Every detail of the text and music speaks with total awareness. An example: at the words “squeaking fiddle” in port of many ships one could feel the disturbing aspects of that kind of noise.

In three Bad Boys arias from Mefistofele (Boito), Don Giovanni (Mozart) and Die Dreigroschenoper (Kurt Weill), Terfel was either at his sadistic or seducing best.

As alive were the four diverse songs written for the legendary John Charles Thomas.

Throughout the recital pianist Nina Schumann was sensitive to every aspect of this diverse programme, including her “bear roar” in the funny encore, Big Brown Bear.

Bryn Terfel’s concert fits totally in a once-in-a-lifetime category.