Stephen Varcoe is one of Britain's most successful and widely known baritones and is especially valued for his contributions in Baroque and contemporary music and as a song specialist. He is particularly interested in the relationship between words and music, and considers the center of his art to be the communication of meaning to an audience.
As a recitalist, he is a frequent contributor to the famous series at Wigmore Hall known as The Songmaker's Almanac, and has made numerous other appearances at Wigmore and the major London recital venues and on BBC Radio 3 and television. His recital pianists have included such illustrious names as Graham Johnson, Penelope Thwaits, Iain Burnside, and Eugene Asti. His repertory ranges across the eras of musical history and includes, in addition to the central core of German Lieder composers (Schubert, Schumann, Brahms, Wolf, Mahler, and Strauss) and the French writers of mélodies (Fauré, Hahn, Debussy, Ravel, Poulenc), an expected representation of twentieth-century British composers (Vaughan Williams, Holst, Britten, Finzi and Britten), songs of Purcell and earlier English masters, vocal music of Percy Grainger and even a selection of popular Victorian era ballads.
He sings the great items in the international concert vocal repertory: the Bach Passions, Magnificat, Christmas Oratorio, and cantatas; Britten's War Requiem; Handel oratorios such as Messiah, Solomon, Esther, Israel in Egypt, and Jephtha; Purcell's King Arthur and Dioclesian; and Webern's Cantata No. 2.
He has appeared with many major orchestras; examples are the Royal Philharmonic, the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, Scottish Chamber Orchestra, New Zealand Chamber Orchestra, the Hanover Band, the National Arts Centre Orchestra of Ottawa, the King's Consort, the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, the Schoenberg Ensemble, the Ulster Orchestra, the Orchestre Philharmonique of Radio France, the City of London Sinfonia, the Vienna Symphony Orchestra, and the BBC Symphony Orchestra. Conductors with whom he has worked on the concert stage include Pinnock, Rifkin, Rozhdestvensky, Lindberg, Tortelier, Gardiner, Hickox, Brüggen, Mackerras, Östman, Minkowski, Knussen, Malgoire, Pinnock, Norrington, and Bedford.
Varcoe is often invited to appear at major festivals (Aldeburgh, Drottningholm, Spitalfields, Festival Cervantino, and Bury St Edmunds, to make a small selection from a long list).
His operatic repertory is unusual. The expected list, heavy on Romantic-era selections, is absent. Instead, he sings Purcell's Dido and Aeneas, The Indian Queen and The Fairy Queen; Holst's Savitri, Rimsky-Korsakov's Mozart and Salieri, Britten's A Midsummer Night's Dream (as Demetrius), Tavener's Mary of Egypt, Debussy's unfinished The Fall of the House of Usher, Haydn's L'Infedelta Delusa, and Peri's Euridice (as Plutone).
He has made over a hundred recordings. On this list, Bach, Haydn, Handel, and are strongly represented, including repertory unusual even for specialists in Baroque and Classical repertory. He has recorded four volumes of Grainger vocal music, Carl Philip Emmanuel Bach's Die Auferstehung und Himmelfahrt Jesu, choral works of Erik Bergman, Britten's King Arthur and World of the Spirit, Songs from the Hesprides by Geoffrey Bush, Campra's Requiem, Carissimi's Last Judgment, War's Embers by Gurney, Schoenberg's Serenade Op. 24, Tavener's Mary of Egypt, Stravinsky's Abraham and Isaac, Theile's St. Matthew Passion, and Schütz's Symphoniae Sacrae.
He frequently conducts master classes in German Lieder and English songs at Britain's major colleges, has appeared in Europe, North America, and the Far East, and has written a book on singing in English.