Jacques Imbrailo - Sibelius & Rachmaninov: Songs - BBC Music Magazine
The young South African baritone Jacques Imbrailo launched an international operatic career as Glyndebourne's Billy Budd, adding lyric roles like Pelleas and Don Giovanni, at Scottish Opera and worldwide. For his first solo recital he chooses an appropriately bold programme, more subtly linked than it might seem. Sibelius, for all his nationalism, drew on the Russian tradition, feeling a particular sympathy with Tchaikovsky, who was also Rachmaninov's early idol. Their moody, dark-hued songs have much in common. Imbrailo opens with the less usual Christmas Songs, deceptively simple melodies recalling Lutheran hymns. The more famous ones that follow, like 'Svarta rosor' and 'Den forsta kyssen' (one of the Op. 47 songs), are often associated with female voices like Anne-Sophie von Otter and Soile Isokoski, but the composer often wrote for the baritone Abraham Ojanpera, and they respond well to Imbrailo's warm tone and smooth legato, and his unforced expression, with Alistair Hogarth's equally fine accompaniment. He sings Swedish naturally enough, with clear diction - in Russian perhaps too clear to sound entirely natural, but that's a nitpick in such attractive performances. His voice is lighter and more translucent than, say, Hvorostovsky's, but no less charismatic, and equal to the dark anguish of ‘Khristos voskres' and the Georgian exoticism of 'Ne poi, krasavitsa', despite odd moments of slightly thinning tone. Altogether this is a distinguished recital debut, and one looks forward to more.