Monday 7 December 2009

Brewer/Vignoles - Strauss Lieder, 7 December 2009

Wigmore Hall - BBC Lunchtime Concert

Zueignung, op.10 no.1
Die Georgine, op.10 no.4
Breit‘ über mein Haupt dein schwarzes Haar, op.19 no.2
Wie sollten wir geheim sie halten, op.19 no.4
Hochzeitlich Lied, op.37 no.6
Glückes genug, op.37, no.1
Ich liebe dich, op.37 no.2
Befreit, op.39 no.4
Songs from Gesänge des Orients, op.77
In der Campagna, op.41 no.1
Die heiligen drei Könige aus Morgenland, op.56 no.6
Frühlingsfeier, op.56 no.5

Christine Brewer (soprano)
Roger Vignoles (piano)

This was one of those concerts about which it is difficult to find a great deal to say: very little to elicit adverse criticism, yet, by the same token, precious little that is likely to prove unforgettable. Everything was performed at a high level of professionalism and Christine Brewer’s warm persona is such that it would be impossible not to like her. To hear a selection of Strauss Lieder is in itself of course most welcome, especially one such as this, which mixed the familiar and the less so (in the case of the Gesänge des Orients, the almost unknown). Members of the audience, as so often, did not help: coughers and paper-rustlers were out in force, and a high-pitched noise – some electronic device, I assume – rendered the opening Zueignung well-nigh unlistenable.

That was a great pity, for the power of Brewer’s voice registered from the outset, likewise the clarity of her diction, not always a hallmark of sopranos in Strauss. The following Die Georgine, its text also by Hermann von Gilm, enabled her to show the communicative, inviting aspect of her musicianship and personality. Roger Vignoles’s sustained yet muscular piano playing made just the right impression in Breit’ über mein Haupt, whilst his vigorous repeated chords in the ensuing Wie sollten wir geheim sie halten (‘How should we keep it secret’), imparting a sense of movement, answered the title’s question, namely that we should not be able to do so. I wearied somewhat of the preponderance of flowers and so forth in the opening songs, but perhaps such sickly Romantic imagery appeals more to others than to me.

Brewer really came into her own in Ich liebe dich, a Brünnhilde supported by piano fanfares that seemed to look forward to Der Rosenkavalier – and even evoked parallels with Schoenberg’s Gurrelieder. The soprano proved just as dramatic in the Dehmel setting, Befreit: no lyric Schwarzkopf she, which entails gains and losses. What could be said for certain, here and elsewhere, was that Strauss’s long lines caused her no difficulties whatsoever. In the more elliptical three numbers from the Gesänge des Orients (‘Ihre Augen’, ‘Schwung’, and ‘Die Allmächtige’), she was fully able to spin the vocal line, whilst Vignoles highlighted Strauss’s sometimes surprisingly oblique harmonies. The sparer textures of these later songs registered most fully in the piano part, with no loss to the vigour of Schwung.

Wiegenlied was truly lovely. Here, Brewer showed that she was quite capable of scaling down her tone to a much gentler level, though she drew intelligently upon her reserves for the climax. The piano part in this song sounds busier than it does in the orchestral version. The latter seems to me in every respect preferable, likewise that of Die heiligen drei Könige, where here, rather to my surprise, the tremolos did not always resound as they might; it is very difficult, but it can be done. Just prior to that Heine setting, Vignoles’s piano had hinted at the Strauss of the symphonic poems – somewhere between Aus Italien and Don Juan – for In der Campagna. With Heine also as the poet for the final song, Frühlingsfeier, Brewer the dramatic soprano returned with a vengeance for Strauss’s own rite of spring. Allerseelen was a welcome encore, the magic of Wiegenlied reignited.