A tumultuous ovation for their performance of Schubert’s great song cycle seemed to take Marcus Farnsworth and James Baillieu aback.
At one point Farnsworth reached for Baillieu’s piano score and brandished it in an attempt to quell the uproar by indicating it was Schubert who should take the credit.
Two factors contributed to the reception, surprisingly after a decent interval of silence at the end, one being the consistent tonal quality and spontaneity of Farnsworth’s singing, the like of which we rarely hear in Sheffield.
The other was its from-the-heart delivery which probably tended to obscure many a listener’s ears to the fact that we were listening to Lieder, or German art song, not opera.
In its own way, it worked, because Farnsworth remained throughout the cycle’s duration essentially a tormented, angry young man and, you felt, would remain so after resigning himself to anonymity with the hurdy-gurdy man at the end.
A sense of it having previously being a cycle hadn’t really been there, however, the previous 23 songs not truly knitting together to form a narrative sequence depicting Schubert’s vivid psychological picture of a man wearily journeying into oblivion.
There had been vividness, plenty of it, as Farnsworth deployed an impressively wide-ranging baritone voice with considerable skill and moments of great vocal beauty, especially in Der Lindenbaum.
Emotional intensity, often compelling, was there in spadefulls with Baillieu a willing accomplice offering virile piano playing as he set the underlying musical picture and regularly pounded out fortissimo chords when Farnsworth turned on the operatic vocal power.