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Opening Concert of the Wigmore Hall Season:  -  Schubert, Lieder to texts by Mayrhofer, Leitner, Schiller and Goethe.  Matthias Goerne (baritone)  Elisabeth Leonskaja  (piano)   08.09.2006  (M E) 


It is surely a measure of the Wigmore Hall’s greatness as well as its newly-revived sense of confidence, that it was able to open its new season with this resolutely uncompromising, lollipop free recital: of course Goerne has always been a bon-bon free zone, and that’s partly why I regard him so highly. A one-composer evening mostly made up of philosophical texts by the likes of Schiller, with no concessions at all? Yes, please, and my view was echoed by a capacity audience which, may I say, was by no means weighted towards the decrepit, as we are constantly, and rather insultingly, being informed by those who drop in to the world’s finest recital venue on the odd occasion.


Goerne had dedicated the programme to the memory of Elizabeth Schwarzkopf, most appropriately since his own commitment to perfection and his seriousness of purpose are so close to hers. The settings of Mayrhofer made a profound impression: the poetry of this intense, melancholy writer may not appeal to everyone, but it called forth from Schubert some of the greatest of all his songs, two of them here given peerless performances. Memnon tells the story of the statue in Thebes which was said to give out a musical sound at sunrise, to greet the Dawn: this intense song, marked Schwärmerisch (visionary) is a supreme test for both singer and pianist: from a hushed beginning, the singer’s tone has to blossom into ‘Aurora’s Purpurstrahlen liebend brechen’ with a barely perceptible pressure on ‘liebend,’ and the accompanying octaves in the piano at the key change of ‘’Fürmenschenohren’ must suggest inherent sadness. As the poet asks to become ‘ein stiller, bleicher Stern’ the melody, as Gerald Moore wrote, ‘drops from heaven to earth and then rises again, in endearing intervals into which the singer put all his love and tenderness,’ and he certainly did .


The following Lied eines Schiffers an die Dioskuren is one of my favourite of all Schubert’s songs: it was sung with superbly sustained mezza-voce and characteristic respect for the music’s natural phrasing, and Leonskaja gave a wonderfully evocative account of the accompaniment to ‘Dieses Ruder, das ich schwinge’ which so mesmerizingly suggest the movement of oars on still waters.


Leitner is a very different kind of poet, often sweet when Mayrhofer is lugubrious, but he too inspired Schubert to greatness, especially in the wonderful Der Winterabend: this is a fairly infrequently performed song, presumably because most singers find it hard to sustain the mood through four very long stanzas: it’s a quiet, introspective, ruminative song which nonetheless carries the weight of sorrow, as the poet muses on his past happiness – Goerne’s completely unaffected murmuring of the final ‘und sinne’ was perfection, as was the muted yet poignant accompaniment.


Schiller and Goethe made up the second half, with especially fine performances of An Emma and Grenzen der Menschheit and a positively towering one of Gruppe aus dem Tartarus, but most memorable of all was the single encore, Im Abendrot, where one of the very greatest of all Lieder was given a performance of such seamless legato, poised narrative and tenderness that the audience was as if spellbound. This was the perfect beginning to the Wigmore’s year-long ‘Festival of Song.’


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)