‘Untethered’ – Hugh Cutting (countertenor) & George Ireland (piano)

Countertenors used to be restricted to College choirs and Early Music ensembles, only showing their full colours on the opera stage. Hugh Cutting met our expectations by starting with a histrionic monologue. He is an excellent story-teller and he brought Monteverdi’s Ottone, the husband cuckolded by Nero in ‘L’incoronazione di Poppea’, dramatically to the platform. The fragment ended abruptly, leaving us wanting more.

What we got was a surprise. Lieder is a genre not often associated with this voice, but of course countertenors should sing Schubert (who used to play the viola and sang alto as a boy). ‘Ganymed’ is a Classical tale reworked by Goethe of a boy’s sacred rapture. Cutting’s pure sound gave it an unearthly quality. He maintained that purity by clipping the highest notes rather than forcing them. All the while the lyrics were becoming impassioned, the line “Ich komm’, ich komme!” sounding quite erotic! Chausson’s ‘Hébé’ and Wolf’s ‘Herr, was trägt der Boden hier?’ developed this theme, getting even more dramatic as the singer devotes himself to the appropriate deity.

To sing the final passage from George Benjamin’s opera ‘Written on Skin’, Cutting made full use of the majestic acoustic and of his vast range of pitch and vocal colour. The result was utterly modern and enthralling. George Ireland’s spectacular accompaniment was both sensitive and vivid, evoking the harsh brass of Benjamin’s orchestration. On the opera stage a murder scene is clumsily unfolding but in today’s concert we could concentrate just on the singing. The effect was stunning. The audience, and doubtless the performers, really needed the short interval that followed.

After the ‘tethered’ works of the first half, the concert continued as ‘untethered’, in melancholy and exquisite mode with Herbert Howell’s ‘King David’, Fauré’s ‘Cygne sur l’eau’ and Hahn’s ‘À Chloris’. The voice was in full command of the acoustic, showing just how Cutting won the Kathleen Ferrier Award and is now deemed the best young singer of 2021.

Then came the second reading. Earlier, Ireland had read a sonnet by Michelangelo; now Cutting told the story of Philippa Langley unearthing Richard III in a Leicester car park. This was an introduction to Nico Muhly’s spooky ‘Old Bones’ and we enjoyed story-telling of the finest quality. Three songs from Piers Connor Kennedy’s ‘Rough Rhymes’ concluded the theme of redemption beautifully, ending an intricately planned and masterfully performed programme. The countertenor voice clearly is not restricted to historic or ecclesiastical performance and I look forward to hearing more from these musicians in whatever period, style or venue they choose.

All Saints Church,
10 May 2022


Andrew Connal

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