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Edinburgh International Festival 2009 (13)- Haydn: Lieder by Chopin, Schubert, Bermüller, Schumann: Christoph Prégardien (tenor), Andreas Staier (fortepiano), Queen’s Hall, 25.8.2009 (SRT)

Another one of today’s great lieder pairings features at the Queen’s Hall with a mix of the familiar and unfamiliar. They opened with seven songs by Chopin, translated into German. They were completely new to me, but I didn’t leave the concert astonished by Chopin’s genius as a lieder composer. Many of them were quite plodding and repetitious: in only one song, Eine Melodie, did I feel like we had been taken on an emotional journey. They didn’t bring out the best in the performers either, whose interpretations seemed fairly one-dimensional. Putting six of Schubert’s Schulze settings next in the programme only underlined the contrast with Schubert’s consummate song-writing genius. Each of these songs was a spiritual quest with a myriad of different moods, for example the way that the bleak mood of Im Jämmer was turned on its head in the final couplet of each verse. Both performers stepped up their game here too: Prégardien surged through the passionate rhythms of An mein Herz and the mania of Lebensmut, while perfectly judging the evolving moods of Im Frühling. Staier’s sensitive accompaniment was especially well suited to the songs of anguish, not least the obsessive rhythm that underlined An mein Herz. His skill is so great that I soon forgot that I was listening to a (mere) fortepiano, so involved was he in conveying the emotion at hand. Likewise, Prégardien’s voice has become darker of late, sounding almost baritonal at times, but he is capable of soaring brightly at the top so he is perfectly suited for displaying Schubert’s emotional kaleidoscope.

Plenty of darkness was called for in the second half, with the overwhelming gloom of the Bermüller settings, but they were shot through with melting beauty, giving us some insight into why the composer was held in such high esteem by the likes of Schumann, Mendelssohn. From Schumann himself we were given two Heine settings and six songs to poems by Lenau, together with a Requiem song Schumann wrote for that poet (or was it really for himself?). The stand-out, however, was Heine’s gorgeous Abends am Strand, depicting two men gazing out to sea, telling stories as the sun sets. With its changing moods and heartfelt passion it could almost have been an accompaniment to a painting by Caspar David Friedrich. For a well-earned encore we got another treat in Schubert’s Sehnsucht, showcasing the greatest Romantic songsmith by two of his greatest living interpreters.

The Edinburgh International Festival runs until Sunday 6thSeptember at venues across the city. For full details go to

Simon Thompson

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