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S & H Recital Review

Schubert, Schumann, Cornelius, Wolf, Brahms: Angelika Kirchschlager, Simon Keenlyside, Julius Drake. Wigmore Hall, Friday September 6th 2002 (ME).

The Wigmore Hall season is here again, and the occasion of this opening concert seems a good time to give thanks for one of the few things in which we can truly say that London is unrivalled, since this Hall presents more high – quality song recitals than any other venue in the world, as well as allowing emergent talent to be heard and maintaining the most un-patronizing educational programme I’ve ever taken part in. It’s heartening to read that attendance at song recitals last season increased by 19.6 % to almost 96% - the result of continued excellence, of course, and also, one hopes, helped by the constant and (usually) very enthusiastic encouragement received from Wigmore devotees such as the present writer.

Of course, the place is not perfect: the list for 2002/3 contains the names of a few singers who I would not choose to hear again, the catering arrangements still need work (it would be nice if they took AmEx, and if all the staff knew how to operate the card machines; it would also be an improvement if the bar were open after concerts…) but otherwise the Wigmore is as near to musical heaven as I can imagine. Within a two-week period from November 16th – 30th, I shall hear Matthias Goerne in Bach arias and a recital of Schubert and Wagner; Juan Diego Flores; Ian Bostridge and Angelika Kirchschlager; Emma Kirkby and Michael Chance, and John Mark Ainsley with the Nash Ensemble – and that’s just Song, the instrumental evenings in that same short period including such delights as Trevor Pinnock playing Bach and Paul Lewis Beethoven.

To return to last night’s recital, it was not quite one of the hall’s most memorable evenings, although I am sure that many would disagree with me there, the performance of the ‘Mignon’ songs, for example, seemingly having reduced one or two eminent persons to unaccustomed inarticulacy. Angelika Kirchschlager and Simon Keenlyside have presented this same programme in Salzburg, they were to have performed it at the Schubertiade (but Keenlyside was ill and withdrew) and they will sing it again at many venues in the States. This sort of thing does make for a certain polish, of course, but I have to declare that my own preference runs to singers who take a few more risks with the unfamiliar and who send me home wanting to go straight to the music to hear it anew. That being said, the evening offered much pleasure from performances of many well – loved songs, the greatest pleasure being derived from the luminous playing of Julius Drake, who, as so often, was the star of the evening.

I seem to be making vaguely sympathetic noises every time I review Simon Keenlyside, and so it is again; he was obviously not at his best, whatever had ailed him in Schwarzenberg, and his soft singing, in particular, was painful to the ear at times, but all credit to him for going on. The first half of the programme gave only a hint of how lovely his tone, and how fine his interpretative skills, can be, with Wolf’s ‘Auf einer Wanderung’ and ‘An die Geliebte’ his best performances. Keenlyside clearly loves these songs with a passion, and he gave them everything he had, the effortful nature of the singing at ‘O Muse, du hast mein Herz berührt…somehow adding to the poignancy of the sound, and as for the latter song, the wonderful final lines were breathed with as much love as any singer could possibly muster. Time and again, I found myself scribbling ‘Piano!’ as Drake echoed and supported the singer with eloquent, virtuosic playing which gave the most constant delight; at least as far as Wolf is concerned, Drake is simply the Gerald Moore of our time.

Angelika Kirchschlager was the image of health and beauty, and from her first line she had the audience exactly where she wanted them. She’s a very expressive, demonstrative singer, and well matched with Keenlyside’s more detached manner. Schubert’s ‘Lambertine’ is an ideal song for her, with its passionate longing and eventual self-control, and she gives key words such as ‘Seligkeit’ the kind of heartfelt emphasis which marks the genuinely word-sensitive singer. As with Keenlyside, Drake gave her the most empathetic support imaginable.

The second half of the concert produced some remarkable performances, notably in the ‘Mignon’ songs, ‘Ganymed’ and ‘Suleika II.’ Schumann’s settings of Goethe’s ‘Mignon’ poems provide many challenges for the singer, and Kirchschlager was equal to them; her singing of ‘So lasst mich scheinen’ would be enough to convince you that this is as fine a song as Wolf’s version, especially in the final, searing line ‘Macht mich auf ewig wieder jung!’ which may not have the merciless leaps of the Wolf but when sung like this has just as powerful a capacity to send shivers down the spine. Keenlyside sang ‘Ganymed’ fervently, with Drake achieving delicate miracles at the piano, as he did again in ‘Suleika II’ where the racing heartbeat of his playing could not have been more eloquent – this is one of my favourite Schubert songs, and he and Kirchschlager made it the best thing in the recital.

A very enthusiastic audience was rewarded with several encores, of which the highlight was Kirchschlager’s singing of Schubert’s ‘Florio.’ Keenlyside did not leave her to bear all the extra singing (it was a long recital) but he should give ‘L’incanto degli Occhi’ a break from his repertoire, at least when he’s not feeling one hundred percent. Drake’s playing, once again, was just that – totally supportive without being needlessly self-effacing, and as musical and poetic as any I’ve heard in this hall.


Melanie Eskenazi


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