Wednesday 11 January 2012

Richter/Prégardien/Drake - Wolf, 10 January 2012

Wigmore Hall


- Der Knabe und das Immlein
- Nixe Binsefuss
- Elfenlied
- Begegnung
- Der Gärtner
- An die Geliebte
- Der Feuerreiter


- Ganymed
- Die Spröde
- Die Bekehrte
- Gleich und gleich
- Ritter Kurts Brautfahrt
- Der neue Amadis
- Genialisch Treiben
- St Nepomuks Vorabend

Mörike, Geistliche Lieder

- Neue Liebe
- Schlafendes Jesuskind
- Karwoche
- Wo find ich Trost?
- Auf ein altes Bild
- Gebet
- Seufzer
- Denk’ es, o Seele!
- Zum neuen Jahr

Anna Lucia Richter (soprano)
Christoph Prégardien (tenor)
Julius Drake (piano)

This first in a series of concerts in which the Wigmore Hall will present the songbooks of Hugo Wolf offered much to savour, despite the late replacement of the indisposed Julia Kleiter by Anna Lucia Richter. For a singer so young – I cannot imagine there have been many vocalists who made their Wigmore debut at the age of twenty-one – Richter performed more than creditably. However, there were times when not only her lack of experience but also the youth of her voice showed. Problematic intonation at the beginning of her first song, ‘Der Knabe und das Immlein’ was doubtless a matter of nerves, yet her overly playful delivery of the rest of the song suggested an excessive if understandable desire to sound – and to look – ‘characterful’. There were times when the winsomeness became a little wearing. Enunciation was generally excellent: a necessity in Wolf’s songs, though still worthy of proper acknowledgement. However, it was not always clear that she knew what to do with the words; in this recital, she was, after all, dealing with Mörike and Goethe. ‘Intensity’ was a little too effortful in 'Die Bekehrte', the overall impression – at least vocally – anything but erotic. ‘Neue Liebe’ was simply too operatic for a fine specimen of the Lied, whilst ‘Wo find ich Trost?’ simply needed a more fully developed voice, a Kundry even, for its extraordinary text properly to register. I was tempted to say that Richter would have been off leaving ‘Ganymed’ to Christoph Prégardien, then recalled that, rightly or wrongly, Wolf considered it to be a woman’s song.

Nevertheless, with Prégardien, we stood on much surer ground. Highlights included a heartfelt ‘An die Geliebete’, with a powerful climax upon ‘ewiger Genüge’ and wonderful use of the head voice upon the poet’s smiling of the stars, and truly Bergian expressionism in ‘Die Feuerreiter’: ‘Hinterm Berg, hinterm Berg rast er in der Mühle!’ The cold ride to the grave in the latter reminded one, moreover, that expressionism looks back to Schubert as well as forward to the Second Viennese School. Likewise the changing moods – ‘Frühlingstraum’ from Winterreise came to mind – of ‘Denk es, o Seele!’ and the haunted rendition of ‘Seufzer’. Another aspect of the tenor’s artistry was displayed in the ballad delivery of ‘Ritter Kurts Brautfahrt’: here narrative thrust issued forth both purposeful and meaningful.

To stop there, however, would leave us with an unsung as well as non-singing hero, for Julius Drake’s performance was perhaps the finest of all. Whilst his companion struggled somewhat in ‘Der Knabe und das Immlein,’ Drake’s piano part left us in no doubt from the very first bars that Wolf was knocking upon the door of early Schoenberg: the kinship to the op.2 songs is remarkable. The chimes of ‘Elfenlied’ struck both terror and wonder into the heart, whilst the difficult progression from darkness to light in its successor song, ‘Begegnung’, was judged well-nigh perfectly. Wolf’s piano writing in ‘Der Feuerreiter’ is positively Wagnerian, and so it sounded here, yet it also sounded thoroughly pianistic. Echoes of Schubert’s ‘Der Leiermann’ in ‘Die Bekehrte’ were powerfully yet subtly conveyed. If the odd stitch were missed in the interlude before the final stanza of ‘Ritter Kurt Brauutfahrt’, that is more or less the only criticism I can muster, and it is a minor one at that. ‘Karwoche’ benefited from a keen awareness of the piano part’s proximity to Strauss. Moreover, I could not help but wonder whether ‘Zum neuen Jahr’ – the only vocal duet – was performed with full awareness of Liszt’s delightful solo piano suite, Weihnachtsbaum. It certainly sounded as if it were, and it came as no surprise to read afterwards that Drake is recording the complete songs of Liszt for Hyperion. On this evidence, it should prove an invaluable collection.