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S & H Recital Review

Schubert, Lieder to Texts by Goethe: Schumann, Lieder to Texts by Heine. Matthias Goerne, Eric Schneider: Wigmore Hall, 24th February 2004 (ME)

This evening’s programme may not have been quite what some members of the Wigmore audience have come to expect from Matthias Goerne, since it was made up of well known Lieder by the favourite poets of the composers, but as always with this singer, the structure and content of the recital afforded us new insights into the works and their associations. Goerne is moving into uncharted waters with his interpretations of Schubert and Schumann – especially the latter – and he now presents this music with a kind of confidence which is often quite startling to behold – I’ve said before that an evening with him can be a white-knuckle ride at times, and this one was no exception.

The selection from Goethe provided an object lesson in how to subtly reveal links between songs as well as displaying the singer’s technique and temperament to the full: daringly beginning with ‘Wandrers Nachtlied II’ the recital immediately established its mood – we were in the presence of a singer and a pianist so intimate with this music and poetry that no other interpretation seemed possible during those long-breathed lines, delivered with such a sense of powerful ease. Both ‘Ganymed’ and ‘Nähe des Geliebten’ revealed Schneider’s prodigious skill, nowhere more so than in the Nachspiel of the latter song, and both also gave full rein to Goerne’s unrivalled ability to make words come alive without over-stressing them, and the astonishing control which allows him to take a long phrase in a single breath, so that when he arrives at closing lines such as ‘Der Wandrer bebt’ he still has enough in reserve to be able to shape the final consonants with tenderness.

The centre-piece of the first half was, rightly, a magisterially authoritative performance of the ‘Gesänge des Harfners’ which gave full rein to every mood of the tormented speaker but was at its finest in those moments touched with rage, such as ‘Ja! lasst mich meiner Qual!’ and those where a Winterreise-like numbness and stoicism become evident through the spare, dignified singing of phrases such as ‘Und ich werde weitergehn.’

The word ‘bittersweet’ might have been invented for the combination of Heine’s poetry and Schumann’s music, and the ‘Liederkreis’ Opus 24 presents us with songs which burn with jealousy as well as tremble with yearning: Goerne and Schneider perform them as if possessed, bringing out all Heine’s ambivalence and Schumann’s rapture. The finest moments in the cycle came in ‘Ich wandelte unter den Bäumen’ where Schneider seemed to be able to suspend time with a daringly lingering tempo for the solemn 4/4 melody, and Goerne’s phrasing and caressing of the words in ‘Da kam das alte Träumen’ and ‘Das hübsche, goldene Wort’ was perfection. ‘Mit Myrten und Rosen’ is easily dismissed as a lollipop, but it is really the fulfilment of Schumann’s eager desire to celebrate his love for Clara: since the work as a whole is only a unified cycle insofar as all the poems are by Heine, it is fitting that we should be left with this passionate declaration of romantic love, and Goerne sang it as one so rarely hears it, with full-blown romantic ardour yet without any overdone recitalese. Lines such as ‘Und rings viel blitzende Funken verspruht!’ revealed the exceptional finesse of his articulation, he caressed ‘Du süsses Lieb’ in fernen Land’ with silken beauty of tone, and ‘Und flüstern mit Wehmut und Liebeshauch’ was sung with unobtrusive skill, just enough stress being placed on ‘Wehmut’ to engage the emotions without overdoing it: as for the final diminuendo, it was simply astonishing – I have never before heard that ‘Liebeshauch’ breathed with such tenderness.

The audience response was rightly ecstatic, and three superb encores were given, the most striking being a performance of ‘Der Musensohn’ which was remarkable for its vividness of characterization and its sheer joyful exuberance in both piano and voice.


Melanie Eskenazi




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