A VERITABLE feast of Song, courtesy of Opera North and Leeds Lieder, awaited an almost full house in this jewel of a concert room adjoining the Grand Theatre. The young German lyric baritone Benjamin Appl and pianist Joseph Middleton had built a mouthwatering programme around Beethoven's An die ferne Geliebte (To the distant Beloved) - recognised as the first ever song cycle - and Schumann's immortal Dichterliebe (A Poet's Love). Sandwiched in between were gems by Ivor Gurney and Marian Ingoldsby as well as Edward Grieg's Six Songs Opus 48, plus three more by Schumann. Thirty five songs in total, and with the exception of Ingoldsby's, every one of them performed from memory by this charismatic singer.

He was the very last student of the great Dietrich Fisher Diskau. The impeccably focused voice and burnished tone combined with a sense of line and a genius for weighing the effect of every word awakens memories of Appl's mentor. I never heard Fisher-Diskau live in concert, but after experiencing Benjamin Appl I feel as though I just have done.

Three settings of verses by William Butler Yeates were charmingly introduced and imbued with personality by Appl. Gurney's delightful Cradle Song and the wistful Down by the Salley Gardens were followed by Ingoldsby's regretful Never Give All the Heart.

Appl and Middleton's animated performance of Schumann's Belsatzar (Belshazzar) illuminated the storyline of this ballad in revealing detail.

For his immortal Dichterliebe, Schumann sets sixteen poems of unrequited love from Heinrich Heine's Lyrisches Intermezzo. Appl conveys a sense of wonderment in the opening song which extols the beautiful month of May. But the poet's mood gradually changes to irony, bitterness and self pity. A sense of swagger in Aus alten Marchen winkt es (From old fairy tales) soon evaporates. Appl powerfully conveys the poet's grief in the final song Die alten bosen Leider (the Bad Old Songs) and Middleton's exquisite piano postlude concludes this wonderful song cycle in reflective mood. Rapturous applause was followed by a reprise of Down by the Sally Gardens.

Geoffrey Mogridge