Tuesday, 11 August 2009

Salzburg Festival (4): Goerne/Haefliger - Wolf and Liszt, 8 August 2009

Grosser Saal, Mozarteum

Wolf – Neue Liebe
Wolf – Peregrina I and II
Liszt – Blume und Duft
Wolf – An die Geliebte
Wolf – Liebesbotschaft
Wolf - Nachtgruß
Wolf – Drei Gedichte aus Michelangelo
Liszt – Ein Fichtenbaum steht einsam
Liszt – Vergiftet sind meine Lieder
Liszt – Laßt mich ruhen
Liszt – Ich möchte hingehn
Liszt – Des Tages laute Stimmen schweigen
Liszt – Über allen Gipfeln ist Ruh
Wolf – Harfenspieler I, II, and III
Liszt – Der du von dem Himmel bist
Wolf – Keine gleicht von allen Schönen
Wolf – Sonne der Schlummerlosen
Wolf – Morgenstimmung

Matthias Goerne (baritone)
Andreas Haefliger (piano)

Liszt was in many respects the most extraordinary composer of an extraordinary century, yet he still needs fighting for. This year, the Salzburg Festival has certainly done its bit, with a series at the Mozarteum of eight Liszt-Szenen concerts; regrettably, I was only able to catch this, the last. All but the first, an all-Liszt recital from Arcadi Volodos, presented Liszt’s music in conjunction with that of other composers. Bach, Galina Ustolvskaya, Busoni, Ligeti, Frank Martin, Shostakovich, Paganini, Alkan, and Schoenberg had already made their appearances; now it was the turn of Hugo Wolf. And there was arguably a third composer present, if unperformed: Liszt’s friend and subsequently son-in-law, Wagner. Nor should one forget – and how could one? – the presence of Schubert, to whom all three composers rendered tribute in their different ways.

The musical relationship between Liszt and Wagner is extremely complex and remains to be fully explored. That between Wagner and Wolf only runs one way, of course, but is no less noteworthy for that; from the time of Wagner’s visit to Vienna in 1875, for performances of Tannhäuser and Lohengrin, Wolf counted himself a ‘Wagnerian’, and both his musical works and critical writings bear witness to that. Wagner even looked over, albeit in all too cursory fashion, the budding composer’s works. The predictable lack of interest clearly hurt Wolf, since he recorded a dream a few months later, in which Wagner ‘would not hear’ of looking at his scores. It did nothing, however, to dim his enthusiasm. Moreover, Wolf would receive – again, predictably – encouragement from the Abbé Liszt, visiting Vienna shortly after the Master of Bayreuth had passed away. Wolf’s musical and critical works would also witness his enthusiasm for Liszt. I mention such connections not only because they interest me, though they do, but because they came to mind during the recital, and not only on account of the programming, but also on account of the performances from Matthias Goerne and Andreas Haefliger.

Anyway, on to the recital itself: a Liederabend of rare quality. Had this taken place at the Wigmore Hall, I am sure that it would have been sold out within minutes, so I was extremely surprised to see several empty seats in the Grosser Saal of the Mozarteum. No matter: it was the absentees’ loss, not ours. There were few rays of sunshine to be glimpsed, as was made clear by Goerne’s tone in the opening Mörike setting, Neue Liebe. Is it possible, on this earth, for a man to be another’s so entirely as he might wish? The long nights upon which the poet has mused upon it have been productive and the blackness of tone upon the answer ‘nein’ left one in no doubt as to the finality of response. Here, are as in all of the Wolf songs, words were rightly to the fore. This does not mean that the music is secondary, far from it, but it makes little sense considered in ‘absolute’ terms; not for nothing was Wolf such a partisan for Liszt and Wagner against Brahms. Haefliger provided abundant reminder of Wolf’s heroes in a richly Romantic reading of the piano part. Remaining with Mörike, we next heard the two Peregrina songs. Haefliger’s accounts were full of revealing detail, such as the crescendo following the invitation of the ‘unwissend Kind’. Just how unknowing is that innocent child? How can we know? And how innocent are we? That we can know only too well. Performed, quite rightly, as a pair, the two songs culminated in Lisztian rapture and the snares of the post-Tristan hot-house. (Szymanowski is not at all dissimilar.) Yet formal discipline was also emphasised by both musicians; these were not rhapsodic performances.

A Lisztian island appeared upon the horizon, the composer’s only appearance ‘as himself’ in the first ‘half’ (actually much shorter than the second). Even the freshness of this song, Blume und Duft, and the performers’ interpretation had to disappear; suddenly a chilling perception of mortality was ours. Haefliger’s piano epilogue ensured that the major mode sounded anything but affirmative.

We returned to Wolf for the remainder of the first section. Haefliger’s performance of the piano part in Liebesbotschaft vividly brought to light the stomach butterflies of romantic love, above which Goerne’s ardour, perhaps even naïveté, furnished what is, for Wolf, perhaps a surprisingly ‘vocal’ vocal line. The Michelangelo-Lieder certainly dispelled any romantic illusions such a song might have inspired. Wohl denk’ ich oft took one from desolation to exultation, but ambiguity could not help but be present. Very occasionally here, Goerne’s notes were not ideally centred. (I only mention this since it was so rare a technical flaw; only a Beckmesser would really care.) Alles endet, was entstehet took us on a different, related journey, from Erda (everything must perish) almost but not quite to the precipice of the Schoenberg of the Book of the Hanging Gardens (again, everything must perish, yet in a more frightening way). Hope once again reared its head in Fühlt meine Seele, but piano and voice necessarily remained infused with longing: is there any escape from that ‘furchtbare Not’ so completely represented and intensified in Tristan? The fury of the impossible raised itself when Goerne asked ‘ Was ich ersehne.../Ist nicht in mir: sag mir, wie ich’s erwerbe?’ (‘What I yearn for .../is not in myself: tell me, how might I win it?’)

With the opening of the second part of the recital, Liszt had a sequence to himself. Piano and voice immediately took us into the realm of fantastic longing in the beautiful Heine setting, Ein Fichtebaum steht einsam. Liszt might not present so desolate a world-view as Wolf or Wagner, but the dreams of a spruce tree for a palm tree have their own sadness to convey – and so they did here. The anger heard from both musicians in the subsequent Heine song, Vergiftet sind meine Lieder, confirmed the rightness of the title: ‘Poisoned are my songs’. Perhaps Goerne shouted a little here, but the dramatic was far from poisoning the musical. That quintessential Lisztian quiet rapture was to the fore in Ich möchte hingehn. One cannot but think of Tristan when one hears Liszt’s premonition of that chord in an 1844 setting of Georg Herwegh’s verse. Inspired by his final reunion with Caroline de Saint-Cricq, it represents sadness in remembrance of first love rather than metaphysical catastrophe, yet it would be Herwegh who would, a decade later, introduce Wagner to Schopenhauer and thus dimly herald the road to Tristan; even as early as this, the socialist radical poet sounds oddly resigned. It was therefore a masterstroke of programming to follow the song with Des Tages lautes Stimmen schweigen, which opened in this performance with a fine sense of eventide, temporal and metaphysical. The tempo adopted was so slow that, in lesser hands, it might have ground to a halt; this performance, however, was simply spellbinding. In the final song of this Liszt group, the opening and concluding chords hinted at Parsifal: Liszt, once again, as Alan Walker once put it, stealing from the future of music. Unusually succinct for Liszt, especially before the strange works of his later years, this is a gem and was delivered as such.

The final six songs returned to Wolf, albeit with a Lisztian intermission. They sounded as they were: the culmination of a highly intelligent, highly moving programme. I was especially taken with Haefliger’s unsettling syncopation in the second of the Harfenspieler songs from Goethe. It was all the more unsettling for its subtlety, its lack of exaggeration. By contrast, both singers, could, where necessary, produce enough volume to raise the roof, as they showed in the third of these songs. Perhaps the most splendid programming touch of all was to conclude with Morgenstimmung: a wonderful surprise, given the prevailing mood of the recital. How might one vanquish feelings for which Weltschmerz almost seems too tame a description? With a new dawn, which harks back to an old dawn, indeed the original dawn of creation. ‘The Lord speaks: “Let there be light!”’ Then indeed ‘must the darkness vanquish’, happily putting one in mind of earlier musical precedents, not least, in this anniversary year, Haydn and Mendelssohn. One word from Robert Reinick’s verse, ‘freudejauchzend’, summed up the performance of this marvellous song: exulting. An ecstatic richness of tone in both parts, initiated by the Creative act, culminated in the defiance of ‘Herr, laß uns kämpfen, laß uns siegen!’ (‘Lord, let us fight, let us triumph!’) That is certainly what Goerne and Haefliger accomplished in this recital.

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