Friday, 23 July 2010

Farewell, Tony Rolfe Johnson

One woe treads close upon another's heels. Now the two greatest British tenors of their generation, Philip Langridge and Anthony Rolfe Johnson, have taken leave of us within a matter of months (Robert Tear, who was such fun when we met in a BBC studio last year, is I guess slightly older, and going strong, touch wood). Tony - I only call him that through the resident heldentenor, who knew him from Aldeburgh and ENO - had been ill with Alzheimer's for many years, so for the family I'm guessing this will come as a release.

I thought of him when I put up that heartbreaking Poulenc song 'Bleuet', though I didn't want to draw attention to his state then. And now, as before, it's time first to celebrate his stylish art. Top, spectacular choice has to go to that 'Fuor del mar' from Idomeneo.

I've never heard it sung better - the same would go for his Monteverdi Orfeo, and indeed Jessica Duchen chose the stunning 'Possente spirto' over on her Standpoint blog - and it brings back memories of a golden age, with the two great Mozart opere serie performed side by side with near-perfect casts at the Queen Elizabeth Hall.

That was something Langridge couldn't replicate. Of course he always had the neurotic, intense edge in Britten, though it was a treat to see their Aschenbachs almost side by side. And ARJ's Grimes on the Haitink recording is a beautiful piece of singing. What I want to hear - and I can't, as I'm not at home - are the Michelangelo Sonnets in that ineffable recording with Graham Johnson. They're not as far as I can see on YouTube, but here's one of the Hardy settings from Winter Words instead.


JVaughan said...

I was about to say that I have never heard him sing Mozart, but it just occurred that he is the Tamino in the Norrington _Zauberflote_, though I join others in not especially caring for that recording as a whole. His lyricism would seem well-suited to Mozart.

J. V.

Minnie said...

A fine and fitting tribute, David. Yes, don't woes ...
Interesting that your TAD colleague, the inestimable Ismene Brown, also chose Orfeo. Both correct.
So kind and sensitive of you to keep quiet about ARJ's condition; but that makes the whole thing even more poignant, somehow.

JVaughan said...

Someone with whom I recently started corresponding regards his Veer as the best since Sir Peter's.

So there was no funeral nor memorial service for Sir Charles, unless such is yet future? After trying to fine-tune it for about a week, I finally sent off my letter to Lady Mackerras yesterday.

J. V.

David said...

No, in my opinion the best Vere I'll ever see/have seen would be Langridge's. But Rolfe Johnson has the beautiful edge in so many of the Britten songs. And Monteverdi, of course.