A sudden illness caused Gunther Groissböck to pull out of this sell-out Edinburgh International Festival recital, but luckily for us Ilker Arcayurek was within travelling distance of Queens Hall, ready and willing to step into his shadow.
Hats off to the Istanbul-born and Vienna raised tenor. It can’t have been an easy decision, even for a world-renowned artist, to step onto a stage with only 24 hours’ notice, no real rehearsal time and Radio 3 on hand to record the results for posterity. What could possibly go wrong? Well… nothing, as it turns out.
Accompanied by the original pianist Malcolm Martineau, the duo understandably forgo the original programme, swapping Strauss, Wolf and Mahler for three song cycles by very different composers.
Arcayurek’s stage style is relaxed and playful, presenting a calm, still presence, his face reposed in an ever-present half-smile. This shouldn’t be mistaken for a lack of ambition though. In this case, still waters run very deep indeed. The show opens modestly (and maybe a tad nervously) with Beethoven’s An Die Ferne Geliebte, a set of six poems which grow in power throughout the performance. At first the piano sounds a little reticent while Arcayurek occasionally seems a bit unsteady on the higher notes. Both musicians soon warm up though and it isn’t long till our tenor finds his velvety growl adding a solid foundation to the tonal clarity and robust energy this music demands.
From here the performance takes flight as Arcayurek eschews the score and performs the rest of the recital from memory. Martineau also hits his stride and a new spirit swoops into the sound as we encounter Schumann’s Dichterliebe.
Although firmly locked in to the poetry of the works, Arcayurek avoids the melodrama that grips many big names, presenting a calm, still presence, drawing the audience toward him rather than bellowing at them. As the show progresses he relaxes into his considerable talent and reveals a natural humanity in his delivery.
But it’s the gentler, quieter passages that really beguile the crowd. It takes some confidence to drop his delivery to almost a whisper during Die alten, Bosen Lieder, his tone shimmering like polished glass in the mourning of a lost love. We can almost feel the room leaning in as he gently buries that sorrow note by note, drifting off to an eerie silence. It’s a hypnotising, bravura recital that captures his other-worldly combination of spectacle and sincerity. By the final passage of Schubert’s Nachtstuck his warm resonance has found its perfect, trembling clarity with each note resting quietly on his tongue. Soft. Restful. Done.
A resounding finale with no fewer than four standing ovations and a cheeky little encore completes one of the musical highlights of the EIF thus far. It was a brave and generous move by Arcayurek to step in at such short notice and take on an audience who had their sights set on a very different show, but he rose to the occasion with a spellbinding performance that will only polish his already sparkling reputation.
With thanks to Malcolm McGonigle for this review.