On Thursday morning, the Queen’s Hall in Edinburgh was filled with the gorgeous sound of soprano Anne Schwanewilms.
In this programme of Lieder by Strauss and Mahler, her vocal abilities were evident.
Though Schwanewilms has performed everything from Mozart (Idomeneo, The Marriage of Figaro) to Berg (Wozzeck), she has been drawn to Strauss, and on this evidence it is not hard to see why. She judged the Three Lieder Op.29 to perfection, using her silvery soprano with lyricism and accuracy.
The opening Dream was poignant, while the animation of the second piece was vividly communicated.
Schwanewilms captured the essence of Mahler just as successfully. Her four top Gs at the climax of Scheiden und Meiden were struck with laser-like precision. And the cuckoo calls in Um schlimme Kinder artig zu machen were suitably comic. The closing numbers (after the order was changed in the second half) were three settings of the poetry collection Des Knaben Wunderhorn, which ended the concert in absorbing fashion. The final farewells (‘Ade! Ade! ‘) were almost whispered with a heartbreaking quaver in the voice.
Schwanewilms’s soprano is a delightful instrument. It is pure and precise, well projected but never forced. The low notes are powerful, the top ones accurate and thrilling. This was especially notable near the end of Strauss’s Waldseligkeit, Op. 49, No. 1, where the high note on the word ‘ganz’ was treated to an amazingly secure crescendo, showcasing both Schwanewilms’s crystal clear piano and ringing forte.
With regard to any vocal problems she had, let it suffice to say there was nothing major. Occasionally purity of tone, seamless legato and portamento resulted in a lack of clarity, but Schwanewilms made sure to enunciate each word as clearly as possible. Lightly concerning were the opening words of certain Lied. In Strauss’s Leises Lied, the opening word In was suspiciously absent. Perhaps this is a lack of confidence on the soprano’s part, but with the ear for pitch that she possesses, this should not be the case.
It certainly was not with regard to Schwanewilms stage presence. She seemed to inhabit the platform, communicating both with pianist and audience throughout. Beauty shone through, physically as well as vocally, and Schwanewilms knew full well how glamorous she seemed. She even managed a costume change during the interval!
Malcolm Martineau played the Queen’s Hall piano ably. He phrased with delicacy, stretching ideas to their limits and making sure he never seemed just an accompanist: this was high-quality chamber music. In Mahler’s Ablsung im Sommer, the piano’s evocation of cuckoo song really did sing, whilst in the last of the Ophelia Lieder, the sudden changes of mood were imaginatively handled.
For an encore, the two performed the great Strauss lied Das Rosenband, with its soaring lyricism superbly communicated. The audience’s enthusiastic applause was well deserved.