Schubert: Christian Gerhaher (baritone),
Gerold Huber (piano) Wigmore
Hall, 14 September, 2005 (AO)
The first bars of the first
song in this concert had me amused:
Huber's playing is athletic at the best of times,
but here he seemed to be dancing as well as playing.
He thrust his head back, then
buried his face close to the keys. Then his shoulders leapt
into action as if they had a life of their own. But his playing was very good indeed. As soon as Gerhaher
began to sing, it became obvious that this was going to
be a performance full of vigour.
Gerhaher can be inconsistent.
His Schoenberg recording was disappointing, yet he's
done excellent Dichterliebes
and seems to have a natural fluency for Schumann. Tonight he was in good form.
hymn Dem Undendlichen was
a wonderful way to begin, for Schubert paid more attention
to the musical imagery, of trees singing to Harfengetön,
and planets dancing gravely to celestial trumpets.
Gerhaher made much of the
joyous music. He highlighted words like Posaunen
Chor, without detracting from the overall musical line.
Long vowels were deliciously coloured, consonants
crisply and clearly formed. After his dramatic, firm Gott,
ist es, den ihr preist!,
the stunned audience broke into spontaneous applause.
then evolved seamlessly into Schubert's setting of Goethe's
Wilhelm Meister songs.
The tragic Harfner (harp
player) is forced to keep wandering, trying to escape his
past and his fate. As
an interpreter, Gerhaher can seem impatient, as if listeners should know what
the songs are about. He
doesn't have much time for pathos
and overdramatisation. On the other hand, his instinct seems to attach
to the inner drama in the music.
He has a clear ear for its inner dynamics. In Wer sich der Einsamkeit
ergibt, he shaped the contemplative
middle passages so gently that the song had a real sense
of momentum. Quasthoff has made
Wer nie sein Brot mit Tränen
aß his trademark.
Gerhaher's voice is cleaner
and his diction sharper, so his approach was more direct,
if it didn't have Quasthoff's
Every singer has instinctive
mannerisms, just as athletes have a personal style, or painters
preferred colours. The
secret is to use them well, without letting them become
formula. Gerhaher's instinct
is for shaping each word in a sentence with a slight gap
between them. Here
he used it creatively, for the Rückert
Daß sie hier gewesen,
where the lines seem to linger on the stillness of the beloved's
fragrance, lingering in the air.
Gerhaher lets his voice linger in the mind, hovering over
the tiny, almost imperceptible silences he puts between
words, especially the crucial last line of each verse that
holds poem and song together. Mishandled, it could lapse
into staccato, but there was no such problem tonight. He was happily eliding words and adding melismas where they were needed. This was another sign of his feel for “inner
a more difficult thing to pull off than straightforward
expressiveness. Usually it takes a singer of the calibre of
Goerne to do it really well. Later, Gerhaher managed
to express the subtle structural complexity in the last
verse of Himmelsfunken. In
this verse, he has to slow down, to sing of blissful rapture. “O süßer Hochgenuß!”
When he allows
himself not to rush, Gerhaher
lets his voice breathe warmth and colour.
Thus Alinde was
exquisite, a gentle, lyrical song often the preserve of
tenors. Gerhaher's soft Bavarian
vowels are an added bonus in songs like this, and in the
lovely Ständchen, which was the encore. That inborn smoothness balances his tendency
towards gutteral staccato. When he sang of the nightingales bringing rest
with their Silbertönen,
my heart too felt bliss.
Developing that balance between softness and strength
would be productive, because there is a lot going for this
singer. He and Huber
are a well-matched partnership, for Huber challenges him,
pushing him along, forcing him to be as animated as the
piano part. An assertive
pianist like Huber nurtures by getting his singers to reach their personal
best, just like a good trainer spurs on athletes. Never believe that Lieder is an easy ride.