Having been impressed by Noah Stewart in a John Wilson concert last December at Symphony Hall, I was interested to see how this much-vaunted young American tenor would fare in the Adrian Boult Hall’s more intimate acoustic.
It was a totally different experience. As part of Wilson’s Hooray for Hollywood entourage Stewart shared the stage with a fabulous orchestra and three other soloists: here he was star of the show.
Although a straightforward recital, the occasion was high on razzmatazz and clearly designed simply to please (Stewart chatted winsomely about his musical upbringing, which the audience loved) and plug the singer’s recently released chart-topping album – most of which he sang, again to the fans’ obvious delight.
Despite the lightweight nature of the material, there was much to admire. Stewart’s voice is very attractive and superbly engineered, with the warm lower register of a baritone and a ringing spinto top end. Even the most lightweight numbers (‘Cara Mia’, ‘Shenandoah’ and ‘Without a Song’ to name just three) displayed beguiling charm, while the only operatic item in the programme, Puccini’s Recondita Armonia, had plenty of Italian vibrancy.
Kathryn Rudge, just a year out of college and already making a mark on the opera stage, was described as a ‘special guest.’ This talented, unaffected mezzo-soprano (lovely voice and articulation, though she needs to make “you” sound less like “yew”) delivered Carmen’s Seguidilla in sparkling fashion, and in ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ showed all the required power for a big finish. Two duets with Stewart were also impressively poised.
The accompanist, James Baillieu, if unrewardingly stretched pianistically, played with brilliantly understated empathy. But to give him ‘guest’ billing implied that such a pivotal role was optional – a strange notion indeed. Promoters please note.