This superlative recital once again showed that Goerne is, as so many
others have said so often, the supreme Lieder singer of our time; he
brought with him yet another accompanist (his third here this season)
and yet another subtly designed, uncompromisingly serious programme,
performed with even more near - frightening passion and commitment than
before. This evening was a repeat of Wednesday's recital, but in personnel
and content only, since on that occasion, for whatever reason (preponderance
of corporate clientèle in the audience? nerves? indisposition?)
Goerne's singing was not consistently at his accustomed level, although
this is merely to say that he generally reached the standard of most
other recitalists. To hear this unique singer at his best, one had to
be amongst those fortunate enough to attend Friday's performance, where
it is no exaggeration to say that he sang with stupendous authority
and unequalled beauty of tone.
The first half was all Schubert, linked by composer and theme, beginning
with two of the finest performances I have ever heard of 'Nacht und
Träume' and 'Wehmut,' both sublime settings of poems by Matthäus
von Collin. It is typical of Goerne to commence a recital with a song
like 'Nacht und Träume;' no sense of warming up here, simply the
singer becoming at one with the music straight away. It is part of his
special quality that he is able to take us with him into the world of
the song with such intimacy, but he could not do this if his technique
were not flawless and his understanding profound. Over Haefliger's gently
rocking semiquavers (played with so much more sensitivity of touch than
on Wednesday) Goerne's matchless legato was simply astonishing - it
was Brendel who said that Goerne had the longest breath of any singer
he had come across, and this wonderful song gave ample evidence of it,
the line always fluid whilst still conveying the import of each word.
'Wehmut' was perfection; without undue histrionics, Goerne conveyed
all the song's melancholy and grandeur with unerring skill, and his
'….wenn ich die Au / In ihrer Schönheit Fülle schau,'/Und
all die Frühlingslust.' was not only accomplished without a breath
before the second phrase's arching legato line, but sung with the most
aching sense of time passing and the wondrous nature of the paradoxical
feelings engendered by Springtime; April is 'the cruellest month' for
some because it reminds them of a regeneration in which they do not
feel they have a part, and this complex state of mind could hardly have
been more evocatively conveyed.
In complete contrast, the final von Collin setting was 'Der Zwerg,'
sung with fervid intensity and vivid depiction of its somewhat cruel
narrative, and this was followed by a performance of 'Auf dem Wasser
zu singen' which turned my preconceptions about this little treasure
on their head. Wednesday's performance was not Goerne's happiest moment,
but even then it was clear that his concept of the song is the opposite
of the way I have always heard it; to me, the silvery rippling of the
piano and the tranquil import of much of the language suggest a song
of great charm, but this is not how Goerne sees it. In Friday's performance,
it was even more obvious that he takes it as deeply melancholy, a reflection
not of tranquil acceptance of mutability but of melancholy contemplation
of what Hardy called 'existlessness.'
Part of our reason for going to recitals by such singers is to have
our own notions of the music questioned, and our own imperfect understanding
enlarged, and this was very much what happened for me with 'Viola,'
the fifteen - minute mini - saga to a text by Schubert's friend von
Schober, which Ian Bostridge also programmed here not very long ago.
I wondered then why singers chose it, and hoped that Goerne might be
able to convince me of its merits - he did so triumphantly. In place
of the more usual archness, we had a performance of vitality, directness
and drama which succeeded in making me interested in the fate of the
fragile flower; such lines as 'Sitzet sie und schluchzt und weint…'
neatly avoided sentimentality, and the repeated 'Läut ' was wondrous
in the veiled melancholy of its tone.
The all-Wolf second half was even more uncompromising; no quarter at
all given to any longing for mere lyricism, and a selection of the composer's
most brooding and tempestuous pieces which demanded the utmost concentration
from the audience. Nothing was performed with less than absolute mastery,
nothing was sung with less than utter perfection of intonation and phrasing,
but the three Michelangelo Lieder and the closing 'Morgenstimmung' provided
music - making of the most ardent involvement, with Haefliger matching
Goerne's commitment and virtuosity in almost every phrase.
'Wohl denk ich oft' was tremendous; deeply fervent in its affirmation
of the meaning of love, but even this did not quite prepare us for 'Alles
endet was entstehet,' which was sung with such ferocious, awed power
that one was instantly transported to Goerne's Brahms recital and his
wholly fresh and new singing of the 'Vier Ernste Gesänge,' which
these songs can so strongly evoke. Wolf famously said of this song that
it caused him to be apprehensive about his own sanity, and the intensity
of this performance made you feel that - it was almost too much, as
though white heat were coming from the singer's body and the pianist's
fingers. 'Fühlt meine Seele' was given a peerless performance,
especially in that heart - rending moment of change from E minor to
major, and the final outpouring of passion at 'Daran sind, Herrin, deine
Augen schuld' was completely absorbing in its gripping ardour and depth
'Morgenstimmung' crowned a stunning demonstration of why this baritone
has no equals active today in this repertoire; wonderfully eloquent
phrasing, mellow, sonorous beauty of tone, unique inwardness, ideal
balance between musical and poetic prosody are all present in every
line, allied to a blazing intensity that seems to reach almost fever
pitch at times. These were magisterial, deeply authoritative performances
from a singer who never fails to send me back to the music with renewed
love and increased understanding.