Seen and Heard Concert Review
Der Schildwache Nachtlied
The keyword for this concert was 'intelligence.' Admirably intelligent conducting from Manfred Honeck coupled with the CBSO's habitually intelligent playing and Matthias Goerne's remarkably artistry added up to one of the most satisfying concerts of the year so far. Not a note, not a word was out of place anywhere, but more importantly than either of these, not a thought seemed misplaced either.
Melanie Eskenazi's 'Seen and Heard' interviews with Matthias Goerne (the second is here ) reveal him to be a great and yet modest artist despite his many spectacular successes. Mr. Goerne seems deeply committed to a personal artistic integrity in his performances, even to the point of cheerfully expecting that critics will sometimes dislike what he does. How refreshing then, to find similar characteristics in Manfred Honeck, the conductor for this concert in which all notions of personal self-importance were conspicuously absent.
Like many other first-rate orchestras, the CBSO could probably play the Dvorák Eighth in its sleep, even though there are some tricky moments in this complex but finely wrought score. Acknowledging the orchestra's capacities from the outset, Mr Honeck conducted with admirable restraint, using extremely economical gestures essentially only to set tempi, to sustain balance in each of the four movements and very occasionally to signal emphasis. The resulting tour de force - because this was as fine a performance as I can remember - was therefore the orchestra's achievement: Manfred Honeck let the musicians play and they responded wholeheartedly with a truly inspired reading, easily on a par with the famous Decca Kertesz / LSO cycle of Dvorák symphonies. Thrilling, lyrical and manifestly Bohemian, this was the CBSO at its very best.
On then to Matthias Goerne, for whose voice and artistry, there seem never to be sufficient superlatives. Singing himself in, so to speak, with Der Schildwache Nachtlied, the soldier's military music was contrasted beautifully with the tenderness of the girl's comments. It was done so well, and was so much in sympathy with the text that it became easy to understand Goerne's recent decision to sing Schumann's Frauenliebe und Leben in London (review) a work - naturally enough, given its subject matter - usually sung by sopranos and mezzos. Goerne doesn't just care about text and music; he invests both with thoughtful and personalised meaning.
voice is one of exceptional beauty, subtlety and power,
which contains all of the vocal colours that Mahler undoubtedly
had in mind for these songs. Over the next fifty minutes
of this concert, the full range of his capacities was
displayed time and again to produce an object lesson for
other singers and audience alike on how these songs can
- and probably should - sound.
The rapport between soloist and conductor was tangible and while the opportunity to hear Goerne is always worth some effort, it was the obvious shared respect between everyone involved in this concert that made the long journey to Birmingham so rewarding.