Sunday 6 March 2011

Pisaroni/Rieger - Schubert, Rossini, and Liszt, 6 March 2011

Wigmore Hall

Schubert – Il modo di prender moglie, D902/3
L’incanto degli occhi, D902/1
Il traditor deluso D902/2
Rossini – La promessa
Liszt – Im Rhein, im schönen Strome, S.272 (second version)
Vergiftet sind meine Lieder, S.289
O lieb, so lang du lieben kannst, S.298
Die Vätergruft
Tre sonetti de Petrarca, S.270 (first version)

Luca Pisaroni (baritone)
Wolfram Rieger (piano)

(Image: Marco Borggreve)

I was surprised to discover that this was Luca Pisaroni’s Wigmore Hall debut. On the basis of this splendidly planned recital, he should return very soon indeed. I admired him enormously as Salzburg’s 2007 Figaro and he has recently been garnering plaudits in the same role in Vienna’s somewhat more ‘traditional’ production. It is therefore a delight to report that Pisaroni is just as much at home in the recital room, and every bit as comfortable with German as Italian song.

Schubert opened the recital, but in the guise of his three Metastasio songs, D 902, dedicated to the Italian bass, Luigi Lablache. (They were also published with a German translation.) Pisaroni made something very particular out of them, turning their mixed German-Italian nature into a point of interest rather than a mere compromise. The opening Il modo di render moglie, in which the narrator asks why he might not choose a wife for money, had something of the opera too it: Mozart in the third stanza, moving to Rossini at climax, but Pisaroni was always careful to present these songs as songs; they never overstepped the boundary into aspirant opera, despite the tumult one could only really describe as ‘operatic’ in the recitative of Il traditor deluso and the subsequent portrayal of Metastasian furies. The central L’incanto degli occhi sounded closer to German Romanticism, and were blessed by a beautiful richness of tone especially apparent upon the deeper bass notes. It was a pity that pianist Wolfram Rieger could sometimes, especially in the outer pair, prove a little plodding, but that did not detract from Pisaroni’s artistry.

Schubert, as we hear in his Sixth Symphony, was far from immune to the Rossini craze that swept Vienna, even though he would always remain much closer to Beethoven. It was time to hear from Rossini himself: again, not in aria, but in song, and Pisaroni was every bit as successful in ensuring that the three Rossini songs were heard just as that. One could certainly hear that he would make a fine Rossini singer in the theatre, not least from his beautifully sustained line, but that was not the point on the present occasion. Indeed, we heard, especially in La promessa (Metastasio again), a more Romantic and songlike Rossini than would generally be the case, without stepping too far from the classical poise of the text. Rieger imparted a nice, if slightly Germanic, spring to the piano part for L’orgia, but it was Pisaroni who stole the show, his naughtily confiding ‘Gulliva ravviva / Rinnova ogni cor’ an especial joy, on account of a subtlety one does not necessarily expect to hear applied to Rossini.

Then, a true mark of intelligent programming, we moved to Liszt: German, but not quite, closer to Italian music than, say, Wagner or Brahms. Pisaroni’s diction and sense of style had been predictably yet still creditably fine in the Italian songs; they were no less so when it came to Heine, Freiligrath, and Uhland. Im Rhein, im schönen Strome, announces the first song (‘In the Rhine, the beautiful river’), and that is very much what we heard, but beauty heightened the rapt response to Heine’s verse rather than drawing attention from the words. Rieger seemed more at home in Liszt than during the Italian songs, though it took him a couple of songs or so to get going here. The second Heine setting, Vergiftet sind meine Lieder, was more impassioned than the first, yet stood some way from abandon. One was doubly thankful, then, for the Romantically ardent baritone whose songs, were they poisoned (vergiftet), could not but tempt one to taste of his poison. O lieb, so lang du lieben kannst! would become the celebrated Liebesträume no.3. In Pisaroni’s rendition, its Italianate vocal line blended perfectly with German verse and harmonic direction: Lisztian alchemy indeed. Die Vätergruft emerged in ghostly fashion: an old man, clad in armour, entered an ancient chapel, and, floored by a song of exhortation, fell to his final rest. Midway between Schubert and Wagner (perhaps even Mahler’s Das klagende Lied), it retained the twin Italian and German virtues of the previous Liszt songs. I can honestly say that, had I not known the nationality of the singer, I should never have guessed from his German that he was not a native speaker. Matched with rare beauty of tone and unerring control of line, this made for something special indeed.

Finally came the Petrarch Sonnets. Those very virtues of tone and line, married once again to fine diction, permitted the beauty of Petrarch’s verse to emerge afresh. Expectation upon no.104’s ‘E temo e spero, ed ardo e son un ghiaccio’ (‘I fear, yet hope; I burn, yet am turned to ice’) turned dramatically yet naturally to soaring in the heavens for ‘E volo sopra ‘l cielo’. No.47 was perhaps a little less impressive, opening in comparatively casual fashion; there were, moreover, a few moments when intonation wavered, though when it did not, which was most of the time, there was much to savour. Such was the clarity of diction that one readily detected typographical errors in the printed text, such as ‘primo’ for ‘promo’. And when Pisaroni concluded Sonnet no.123 with the words ‘Tanta dolcezza avea pien l’aere e l’vento’ (‘Such sweetness had filled the air and winds’), one could only concur. If one is to hear a lower voice rather than a tenor in these songs, I cannot think of anyone I should rather hear. Rieger too had seemed incited by the poetry and produced some magically Lisztian beauty, not least in the final postlude. As an encore, we were treated to Es muss ein wunderbares sein, S.314, Pisaroni’s treatment as rapt as the Heine setting with which the Liszt selection had opened. One Thomas Hampson, seated with his partner immediately behind me, apparently unbeknown to his son-in-law on stage, was impressed too...