Jonas Olsson’s singing was relaxed and masterly, while Neecia Majolly’s piano was exceptional

The Majolly Music Trust is one of Bangalore’s most active western music groups, particularly in the vocal field. Unfortunately, with dwindling audiences for western classical music, societies find it difficult to fill the halls they hire at costs they can ill afford. It is also disheartening for a performer to face a sparsely occupied performing space. Fortunately, the collaboration between Majolly Trust and Theme made the Kawai Pianos’ showroom in Koramangala available gratis. The small space ensured a full house, but also proved ideal for a vocalist. Though baritone Jonas Olsson can project his voice to be heard in a much larger auditorium, this compact space ensured he could be heard in the back row when he dropped his voice to tender pianissimo, as in the Brahms.

If one expected aSlav in the helden tenormould – blue-eyed blond, in heroic pursuit of virtue – this Swedish baritone was, instead, a tall sturdy brunette. Not that this vocal range lacks meaty operatic roles: many eponymous characters are baritones: Figaro, Don Pasquale, though some are a shade villainous, such as Don Giovanni and Rigoletto.

The programme had favourites like Ombra mai fu and Panis angelicus, interspersed with pieces from famous song cycles such as those by Schubert and Mendelssohn, which are less known here, so that this paucity was deservedly addressed. One greatly appreciated the English translations provided: it is frustrating to hear singers pour their hearts out if you do not have a clue as to the whys and the wherefores of the text. And who would have known that Xerxes was praising a tree in Handel’s famous Ombra mai fu!

Olsson’s rendering was relaxed and masterly, whether it was the romantic or light-hearted or ominous. Mozart’s blithe playful Papageno contrasted with the very sombre Tannhauser aria, Wagner at his grave best. Mendelssohn’s Wings of Song was the most melodic, with a typical piano accompaniment. The rippling instrumental complement was also integral to Schubert’s Wohin?, invoking a brook. As a tribute to Sweden, Olsson included Stenhammar in a piece of sudden darkness and malevolent trolls. Equally unsettling was Schubert’s Alder King, who lures a vulnerable little boy, rather evocative of Blake’s mysticism. The difficult piano accompaniment was well managed by Neecia Majolly, churning up a terrifying atmosphere.

The vocals were intermixed with solos by Majolly, underlining her reputation as an exceptional pianist. She was equally at her best whether in Scarlatti’s sonata, Debussy’s frolicking Doctors or the tender Faure improvisation.

The encore was that delightful duet of the “parrot pair” from The Magic Flute, where Olsson was joined by Majolly. Their considerable vocal and dramatic talents brought an unusual, very enjoyable evening to a close.

This was Olsson’s farewell performance, as he leaves India shortly. However, as the title of the programme was, “You and I will meet again”, we can look forward to hearing this gifted baritone again.