Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Goerne/Schmalcz - Schubert, 20 September 2009

Wigmore Hall

Nacht und Träume
Der blinde Knabe
Die Sterne
Im Abendrot

Totengräbers Weise
Tiefes Leid
Totengräbers Heimweh

An den Mond
Die Mainacht
An Silvia
Der Schäfer und der Reiter

Die Sommernacht
Jägers Abendlied
Der liebliche Stern
An die Geliebte

Matthias Goerne (baritone)
Alexander Schmalcz (piano)

One is hardly more likely to associate light relief with Matthias Goerne than with Pierre Boulez, though for somewhat different reasons. This was not an occasion to buck the trend. Having said that, this was not so dark a recital as that of Wolf and Liszt he recently gave in Salzburg with Andreas Haefliger. Intelligently programmed as ever, the second of Goerne’s two present Wigmore Hall Schubert recitals presented songs of night, sorrow, and the grave but also songs of the stars, the harvest, and dreams. Melancholy and occasional joy accompanied old age and death. Slow songs were preponderant in the first half, whilst the second brought greater variation, a broadening of horizons.

To open a recital with Nacht und Träume was a bold move: one that paid off handsomely. A wondrous introduction to the recital as a whole was provided by its hushed expectancy, not least thanks to the steadfast rocking – something of a contradiction in terms, I know – of Alexander Schmalcz’s piano part. Hope of sorts coloured Der blinde Knabe and Hoffnung. The blind boy’s happiness with or resignation to his lot – he knows nothing of the sun and its setting, so cannot truly regret it – was poignant indeed, especially in the final stanza, whilst Schubert’s brand of hope in the latter Schiller setting proved to be of the flickering variety: no Beethovenian flame here. Schmalcz intelligently highlighted the extraordinary proto-Lisztian harmony of the introduction and interlude to Friedrich Schlegel’s Die Sterne, whilst Goerne’s response to the text illuminated like the stars themselves. A single telling example was the floated melisma upon ‘himmlischen’, noting the heavenly nature of the signs at which we marvel. In a rapt account of Im Abendrot, the rise and fall of the words and musical structure was expertly shaped.

The second group of the first half was that concerned with the grave. Goerne’s pale, deathly tone brought out the reality (‘Wirklichkeit’, in Rückert’s verse) of the old man’s song (Greisengesang). The gravedigger’s resolve was clear from the outset in Totengäbers Heimweh, whilst the stillness of death itself was chillingly apparent from both musicians – undoubtedly led, however, by Goerne – during the final stanza.

A more enchanted form of night followed the interval. Schmalcz’s piano introduction to An den Mond underlined what is surely Schubert’s tribute to Beethoven’s Moonlight sonata, however much we might regret the nickname. The pianist also imparted a winning rhythmical lilt to Die Mainacht, continued and developed by Goerne, whose An Sylvia proved mellifluous to a degree. In the second Shakespeare setting, Ständchen, I was disappointed by the initial limpness of the piano part. Goerne’s charm – as I said, it was not all doom and gloom – and detailed response to the text clearly rubbed off upon his partner, however. Another drawback was the awkwardness of the piano transition to the huntsman’s music in Der Schäfer und der Reiter. It is tricky, of course, but can be better handled than it was here.

Goerne’s reading of the Goethe setting, Jägers Abendlicht was so intense that it was almost as if the huntsman wished to seduce the moon. This proved an abiding memory of a fine recital. I could not help wondering, however, whether Goerne might on occasion have been better served by a pianist such as Paul Lewis, who had himself seemed somewhat oddly matched with Mark Padmore during the previous Sunday's recital.