Saturday 18 December 2010

Trekel/Martineau - German Song 1840-1850, 17 December 2010

Wigmore Hall

Mendelssohn – Warnung vor dem Rhein
Venetianisches Gondellied
Altdeutsches Frühlingslied

Schumann – Liederkreis, op.24

Clara Schumann – Liebst du um Schönheit
Die stille Lotosblume
Sie liebten sich beide

Carl Loewe – Der Graf von Habsburg
Der gefangene Admiral

Roman Trekel (baritone)
Malcolm Martineau (piano)

The Wigmore Hall traversal ‘Decade by Decade – 100 years of German Song 1810-1910,’ has reached the decade (surely eleven years?) 1840-1850. Originally advertised as vocal soloist was Dorothea Röschmann, but she withdrew, leaving Roman Trekel, another Berlin Staatsoper regular, to offer a replacement programme with Malcolm Martineau as pianist.

The wealth of nineteenth-century German song is such that the Wigmore Hall could programme little else and still come up with great variety of programmes. The decade by decade approach is clearly an attempt to present works in a somewhat different context. It is often said that one appreciates the peaks far better once one knows the foothills; there is certainly something in that. Nevertheless, the present programme did not provoke any startling revaluations on my part.

Carl Loewe’s three ballads remain a taste resolutely unacquired. There used to be a fashion – perhaps there still is – to prefer Loewe’s Erlkönig to Schubert’s; I fail to understand why, but I have to admit the Erlkönig to be a more interesting setting than the three songs included here. Trekel and Martineau gave strong accounts, the tone of both instruments well judged. In the Schiller setting, Der Graf von Habsburg, the baritone proved declamatory within essentially though not exclusively strophic bounds, whilst the pianist pleased with occasional flourishes of pageantry. Ultimately, though, my appreciation was for Schiller’s verse, which one could certainly hear to good advantage, rather than for Loewe’s frankly tedious setting. Perhaps I am just not attuned to the form, but I am very happy to hear, for instance, Schubert’s ballads.

Preceding Loewe’s offerings were five songs by Clara Schumann. Commendably, Trekel and Martineau expended as much effort upon these as they had on her husband’s settings in the first half. They are pleasant enough, and show a fine taste in verse. The Heine Sie liebten sich beide permitted Trekel’s voice to move; the harmony has its moments, to which Martineau was highly alert. If it remains somewhat generalised compared to great Lieder settings, there is no harm in hearing it once in a while. The other Heine setting, Lorelei, seems to hark back a little too obviously to Schubert’s Erlkönig, but again it received a fine performance.

Six Mendelssohn songs opened the recital. The strophic approach can become a little wearying, but Trekel supplied ample good nature to the opening Warnung vor dem Rhein. The ensuing Venetianisches Gondellied almost inevitably put one in mind of some of the Songs without Words; perhaps the Lied is a little over-dramatised for its material. Nevertheless, Trekel here – and elsewhere – impressed with a beautiful, poignant mezza voce. Eichendorff’s Wanderlied was nicely impetuous, especially the piano part: agile but never merely facile. By the time we reached Frühlingslied, the initial slight dryness to Trekel’s voice had been surmounted, though there were cases in the following Altdeutsches Frühlingslied of notes being less than perfectly centred.

Schumann’s op.24 Liederkreis immediately sounded more relaxed, receiving an impressive reading from both musicians. Trekel’s mezza voce again stood out in lines such as ‘Und schlich mir ins Herz hinein,’ from Ich wandelte unter den Bäumen. Martineau’s prologue and epilogue to that song were just as beautifully voiced. The pathos in both parts was unmistakeably post-Schubertian; Winterreise came to mind when Trekel rendered his voice pale and wan for Lieb Liebchen, leg’s Händchen aufs Herze mein. The Brahmsian gravity of the brief, penultimate Anfangs wollt’ich fast verzagen was genuinely moving, whilst the closing Mit Myrten und Rosen sounded lovely indeed, the contrast in ‘O könnt’ ich die Liebe sargen hinzu!’ (‘Could I but bury my love here too!’) chilling indeed. This cycle and the recital encore, Du bist wie eine Blume were certainly the highlights of the evening for me.