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Seen and Heard Concert Review


Schumann, his Poets and Contemporaries: Geibel. Angelika Kirchschlager (mezzo) Lucy Crowe (soprano) Allan Clayton (tenor) Ronan Collett (baritone) Antoine Tamestit (viola) Graham Johnson (piano) Wigmore Hall, 20.05. 2006. (ME)

Graham Johnson’s revelatory Schumann series continued with this quirkily chosen cast – a major Lieder singer (if not the major Lieder singer amongst female artists) taking the stage with three younger singers whom it might be kindest to describe as nascent – and the whole ending with a piece which brought on the violist for a mere three minutes. Never mind; there was much to enjoy in this very well-attended recital (although critics were thin on the ground) even if most of it came from the predictable sources of Ms Kirchschlager and Graham Johnson.

The evening’s chosen poet was Emanuel Geibel, hugely popular in the late 19th century, and set to music by a surprisingly wide set of composers including Berg, Pfitzner, Reger, Bruckner and Strauss, as well as those we heard during the recital. The first half took as its subject ‘The Poet in the Moonlight,’ and was chiefly remarkable for Kirchschlager’s wonderfully eloquent singing of Mendelssohn’s Der Mond and Robert Franz’s setting of Die Lotosblume, the latter to my ears a far more evocative setting of the poem than the more famous one by Liszt, which we also heard. Franz said of his compositions ‘My Lieder are not meant to arouse, but create peace and tranquillity,’ which this song certainly did, making clear why Schumann admired him so much. Johnson’s ever-poetic playing was finely shown in the lovely nachspiel of Clara Schumann’s Der Mond kommt still gegangen, leaving the closing ‘Spanisches Liederspiel’ as the only unremarkable performance.

One can see both why this work is seldom programmed, and why it was chosen on this occasion, since it gives a chance for younger or lesser singers to shine whilst at the same time not exposing them too much: in the case of the soprano Lucy Crowe this was especially relevant, since whilst she blends well in ensemble she still has a tendency to be shrill when singing solo. Both the tenor Allan Clayton and the baritone Ronan Collette still have ‘Oxbridge Choral Scholar’ written all over them, but there is potential in these voices, strongly shown in Collett’s lively characterization and Clayton’s impassioned Geständnis.

Collett made a decent job of Schumann’s rather irritating Der Hidalgo in the second half, and there was some very fine Wolf singing to savour. The best came last, however, in Kirchschlager’s superbly fluent and tender Josef lieber, lieber mein and then Antoine Tamestit’s exquisite playing of the viola accompaniment: Brahms had written the music of which this was part, in an attempt to save the marriage of Joseph and Amalie Joachim – the attempt failed in that when Amalie first performed the songs in 1886 she was not accompanied by her husband, as Brahms had hoped. His pairing of the viola and the contralto voice remains inspired. The very enthusiastic audience were given an encore, one of Schumann’s Zigeunerlieder which featured Tamestit playing the triangle and tambourine with what can only be called splendid inscrutability. The next concert in this series is on June 17th, and features a ‘double bill’ at 16.00 and 19.00, focussing on settings by Heine, with Dichterliebe as the central work in the second concert – highly recommended.

Melanie Eskenazi

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Contributors: Marc Bridle (North American Editor), Martin Anderson, Patrick Burnson, Frank Cadenhead, Colin Clarke, Paul Conway, Geoff Diggines, Sarah Dunlop, Evan Dickerson Melanie Eskenazi (London Editor) Robert J Farr, Abigail Frymann, Göran Forsling, Simon Hewitt-Jones, Bruce Hodges,Tim Hodgkinson, Martin Hoyle, Bernard Jacobson, Tristan Jakob-Hoff, Ben Killeen, Bill Kenny (Regional Editor), Ian Lace, Jean Martin, John Leeman, Neil McGowan, Bettina Mara, Robin Mitchell-Boyask, Simon Morgan, Aline Nassif, Anne Ozorio, Ian Pace, John Phillips, Jim Pritchard, John Quinn, Peter Quantrill, Alex Russell, Paul Serotsky, Harvey Steiman, Christopher Thomas, John Warnaby, Hans-Theodor Wolhfahrt, Peter Grahame Woolf (Founder & Emeritus Editor)