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S & H Recital Review

Schubert, Brahms, Wolf, Duparc. Angelika Kirchschlager, Helmut Deutsch, Wigmore Hall, March 27th 2003. (ME)


A curious programme for this long-awaited solo recital by a much-loved mezzo: somehow, I had expected her programming to be interesting and illuminating, but neither of these words sprang to mind on Thursday evening. Perhaps my expectations had to do with my image of Kirchschlager as a female Matthias Goerne, but even though she does indeed share his intensity and beauty of tone – albeit, in her case, a rather unvarying one – her recitals are clearly more akin to the usual style than his highly individual composer/poet groupings. No matter; in the Schubert and Wolf, we heard some of the most lovely and expressive singing anyone could desire, performed by a singer with that most elusive of qualities, the ability not only to enjoy what she is doing but to display that enjoyment so frankly that we cannot help but share it.

Her Schubert choices included some well known gems, but ‘Lied des Florio’ is not performed as often as it should be – indeed, she is the only singer I know of who regularly includes it either in a scheduled programme or encores. It shares a theatrical background with ‘An Silvia,’ her opening song, but it is in complete contrast to that jauntily charming piece, being melancholy and even despondent in tone: she sang it with beautifully detailed emphasis, the forlorn lover’s vow that ‘ihr Reiz ihn töten’ just avoiding either over-sentimentality or inappropriate matter-of-factness, and the delicate vorspiel found her accompanist in equal form, after a rather prosaic beginning.

‘Das Rosenband’ is another of the less frequently given songs, dating from 1815 when Schubert, then only 18, composed a whole string of minor masterpieces – this apparently slight love song is quintessential Schubert in its flowing lines, its natural rhythm and subdued melancholy, and Kirchschlager sang it superbly, the intensity of her tone at the final ‘um uns ward’s Elysium’ especially engaging. Her general style tends towards the dramatic rather than the lyrical, which some might feel is not entirely fitting for something like ‘Wehmut,’ but she made a completely convincing case for performing ‘Du bist die Ruh’ as a highly charged address rather than the quietly intoned hymn which is more usually heard. Indeed, I would have to go a long way back to recall a finer performance of this wonderful but difficult song: with Deutsch providing a beautifully supple legato line, Kirchschlager’s passionate phrasing, her caressing of individual phrases without forcing them to bear too much weight, and the sheer concentration of her singing gave the highest musical pleasure: if anyone wanted an example, not only of her art but of great singing per se, they would only need to hear that perfect repetition of the word ‘erhellt,’ with its gradual diminuendo exactly as written in the score, as opposed to another crescendo, the latter so much easier to produce, and so much more frequently done.

The first half ended with a short Brahms group, in which only ‘Wenn du nur zuweilen lächelst’ was at the level of the Schubert singing, but the Wolf set which began the second part of the evening showed Kirchschlager at her best: the intensity of her phrasing and the rapt tone which she so easily achieves were displayed to perfection in ‘Das verlassene Mägdlein’ and both ‘Der Knabe und das Immlein’ and ‘Verborgenheit’ were brilliantly sung, the former with what I can only refer to as bearable knowingness (as opposed to the wince-inducing kind) and the latter an ideal evocation of Mörike’s desire to renounce a destructive love, the forte at ‘Wonniglich’ being soaringly taken.

I’m not quite sure why she wanted to sing Duparc: there is a tenuous connection between him and Wolf in that they were both dedicated Wagnerians, and there are traces of Wolf’s absorption in the French composer’s melodies, but to my ears this music does not really suit either her voice or her temperament. ‘L’invitation au voyage’ had some lovely phrases, the repetition of ‘Luxe, calme et volupté’ revealing the distinctive, smoky quality of her timbre, and ‘La vie antérieure’ had some sonorous low notes, but in general her French diction leaves something to be desired and her involvement with the music is not as intense as that which she displays at her best. However, this was still a recital to treasure, even though she gave us more French in the first encore in the shape of Poulenc: this was, however, more than compensated for by a rapt rendition of Brahms’ exquisite setting of ‘Sandmännchen’ and, best of all, an ecstatic Schubert ‘Seligkeit’ during which she and Deutsch parted company for a bar or two but were joyously reunited in a performance which epitomized this singer’s qualities of musicality and sense of enjoyment.


Melanie Eskenazi




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