Sweet-voiced singer avoids Irish tenor label

Robin Tritschler tells Nicki ffrench Davis why he prefers Schubert to Danny Boy

ROBIN Tritschler is one of Ireland’s most sought-after voices. Purity of tone and insightful care are coupled with an expert’s fascination and delight in sourcing music. He performs an all-Schubert concert this Thursday (Feb 23) in Cork School of Music’s Curtis Auditorium as part of Cork Orchestral Society’s concert series.

Tritschler’s most recent performance was the title role of Berlioz’s little-known Shakespeare-adaptation, Beatrice et Benedict, with the Welsh National Opera, with which he will tour until late April. “Wherever I go, you’ll find me in second-hand and specialist bookshops. I like going in and finding music, I have bags and bags of it, the most amazing things. I might have them for five years before I sing them but they are there waiting,” he says.

“If you’re building song programmes, you have to have a large amount to choose from. You might have anything as your theme, but it’s more interesting to me when there’s surprise in there. Like something by a composer you don’t even know, poking fun in a concert about death. It can be great fun to surprise people.”

Tritschler speaks of a programme he conceived for Wigmore Hall in London last year that was date-specific. “It was on Poulenc’s birthday and I took that date, and three days before and after. I chose only composers whose anniversary or birthday was on one of those days. But that wasn’t the theme. The theme was children’s songs. It took me six months to find it all, but I can never do the same concert again unless it’s on that day. That, for me, is the most exciting part.”

Tritschler is a tenor, and he is Irish, but is not an ‘Irish tenor’. “I’m very proud to be Irish,” he says. “And being Irish abroad is an amazing thing. I am a tenor that happens to be Irish. At my first ever concert in America, a guy came up to me afterwards and said to me ‘I’m very disappointed, you didn’t even sing Danny Boy’. It has never been my intention to be that person, the guys who do that do it very well.”

When he sings the repertoire of an Irish tenor, it is for a reason. “The music interests me, I love it and I have a huge collection. If I need something for a particular programme, I love to put it in,” he says. Tritschler says that we have all but forgotten that Count John McCormack sang what was almost contemporary music for him, such as Hugo Wolf in the 1910s, recording them 10 years after they were written. “Only at the end of his career did he sing so much of the Irish repertoire.”

The all-Schubert concert in Cork tonight will be comprehensive. “The first half is from between 1812-22, when he was 15 to 25. He was young but the songs are perfectly formed. There will be some well-known ones in there, but some you’ll never have come across — at least I hadn’t. They won’t be in chronological order, there’ll be a sense of theme running through it. The second half is from 1823 to 1828, when he died. He wrote so many masterpieces in that time, they are the great, great songs. You can’t and don’t want to avoid them just because they are familiar, it’s incredible music.”

He will be accompanied in Cork by Simon Lepper, a pianist he met in college when he first went to London to continue his studies. “Simon was in his final year when I first started at college and I worked with him almost straight away, and have done regularly since then. He has sensitivity and allows the music always to be first. He is always at his best and is a brilliant chamber musician. He plays mostly with singers these days and he’s a professor at the Royal College of Music since last year,” Tritschler says.

Tritschler is looking forward to singing in the new Curtis Auditorium for the first time. The last time he sang in Cork was in the old school-of-music building, shortly before its demolition. “It was the first time I ever sang Schubert’s Winterreise and I was absolutely terrified of doing it. The only thing I remember is that during the second song, this line of text came into my mind and I kept thinking ‘I don’t know where it goes’,” he says.

“All through the concert, I couldn’t get it out of my head and it wasn’t until the penultimate line of the penultimate song that it finally came.” As the song comes back to him, without pause Tritschler sings the line, and the sweetness of his voice floats its way through the phoneline.

* Robin Tritschler and Simon Lepper play at CIT Cork School of Music tonight.

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