Few performers can invite an audience to share both Belshazzar's feast, and a meal of big fat snails, and have them eat it up and ask for more. The charismatic bass-baritone Bryn Terfel did it, serving Schumann's song on the demise of the King of Babylon and a raucous ditty about a slug slurping dragon. He tossed in a sing-along of Home on the range to make his Cal Performances recital at Zellerbach Hall even more memorable. His thoughtful and potent interpretation of Schumann and others had taken care of that already.
Bryn feels as much at home in an operatic aria as in a more popular fare, and he takes an obvious, mischievous pleasure in bending the genres. He started with the more serious songs and followed a snail-slimy slippery slope towards the lighter side. On Schumann's Belshazzar, he delivered an acted up version of the king-taunting-God tale. Terfel's carefully crafted amber tone brought a deep resonance and could span the whole range from pianissimo, as in Schumann's Moonlit Night from the Liederkreis song cycle, to an effortless fortissimo in the previous song in the cycle, Conversation in the Wood. Then he moved on to some Gerald Finzi settings of texts from Shakespeare plays. It's hard to say who of Terfel, Finzi or Shakespeare managed to make the rhythm of the words seem both so natural and musical. The classical song set ended with Jacques Ibert's ironic setting of Don Quixotte songs. And Terfel floored us with an almost native French diction.