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S & H International Recital Review

Mahler & Schumann Lieder, Matthias Goerne (Baritone), Christoph Eschenbach (Piano), Carnegie Hall, New York City, March 7, 2004 (BH)


Phantasie aus Don Juan
Wo die schönen Trompeten blasen
Des Antonius von Padua Fischpredigt
Das irdische Leben
·· Nun will die Sonn’ so hell aufgeh’n
·· Nun seh’ ich wohl, warum so dunkle Flammen
·· Wenn dein Mütterlein
·· Oft denk’ ich, sie sind nur ausgegangen
·· In diesem Wetter, in diesem Braus


Mein Herz ist schwer, Op. 25, No. 15
Dichters Genesung, Op. 36, No. 5
Liebesbotschaft, Op. 36, No. 6
Die Löwenbraut, Op. 31, No. 1
Widmung, Op. 25, No. 1
Der Himmel hat ein’ Träne geweint, Op. 37, No. 1
Aus den östlichen Rosen, Op. 25, No. 25
Mein schöner Stern!, Op. 101, No. 4
Zum Schluss, Op. 25, No. 26


Those in the audience who departed too early missed Matthias Goerne’s final encore, a divine rendering of Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen, the last of Mahler’s five Rückert Lieder. With Christoph Eschenbach keenly attentive at the keyboard and a very slow tempo (as he seems to adopt in his Mahler lately), Goerne caressed each phrase with a longing and resignation that went much deeper than the known quantity of his glorious voice. His attire was a model of understatement and modesty: a black suit, white shirt and no tie, all of which only made focusing on his artistry that much easier.

In their haunting and mostly quiet program, the two artists were completely intertwined with each other, as Goerne’s gorgeous tone melded with Eschenbach’s equally lovely piano sound and flooded into Carnegie’s upper recesses. If there were any regrets all evening, it was that there weren’t more listeners in Carnegie’s "sweet spot" (the balcony) to savor their artistry.

From the first phrase, Das Magdlein trat aus dem Fischerhaus/Die Netze warf sie ins Meer hinaus! (The maiden stepped out of the fisherman’s hut/And cast her nets out into the sea!), Goerne cast his voice easily throughout the room, exuding confidence and showing no strain whatsoever. The very well chosen menu also included the Urlicht, a treat in Goerne’s hands here, since it usually appears graced by a soprano in the middle of Mahler’s Resurrection Symphony. And the melancholy Kindertotenlieder made a touchingly intimate end to the first half. Especially effective was the fourth, Oft denk ich, sie sind nur ausgegangen (Often I Think That They Have Only Stepped Out), with Eschenbach lending gentle underpinning to lines like Sie machen nur den Gang zu jenen Höh’n (They are only taking a walk to those hills.)

Although my positive impressions of Eschenbach only continue to increase based on his conducting (not to mention his programming), this was my first encounter with him at the piano, and I must say he did a tenderly beautiful job. If now and then he seemed to be a more forward collaborator rather than someone waiting patiently in the background, that’s a good thing in songs that benefit from a bolder approach. Further, occasional forcefulness should not be confused with "drowning out the singer." Eschenbach was as delicate as they come in the serene final bars of Schumann’s Mein Herz ist schwer (My Soul is Dark), and in Dedication with its sober O du mein Grab, in das hinab/Ich ewig meinen Kummer gab (O you my grave, into which I eternally cast my grief). To my ears one of the highlights of the Schumann set was Die Löwenbraut (The Lion’s Bride), with a sad text by Adelbert von Chamisso, and Goerne bringing a surge of ache to its strange story.

Perhaps it is the general marginalization of lieder, and of lieder singers, that explained the vacancies in the audience last night. It was a healthy crowd but hardly sold-out, and speaking with friends about Goerne earlier in the day, it became clear that female voices (specifically, stratospherically oriented sopranos) somehow seem to capture popular imagination more immediately. Why this might be will have to be explored another time.

In addition to the Mahler encore, there were two others: Schumann’s Die beiden Grenadiere, Op. 49, No. 1, with the marseillaise making a startling appearance to those of us who didn’t know the song, and the gentle Meine Rose, Op. 90, No. 2, done with the same exquisite grace that had touched Goerne all night.

Bruce Hodges




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