As part of the composers bicentenary celebrations, all the songs that Schumann penned in his annus mirabilis can be heard at the Wigmore Hall this season. This recital was devoted to those written to texts by Joseph von Eichendorff, Justinus Kerner and Hans Christian Andersen, and it would have been hard to find a better pair to tackle them than James Gilchrist and Christopher Maltman.
Naturally, their voices produce quite different sounds, but in terms of underlying vocal techniquethey are remarkably similar. With both, every alteration in dynamic remains thoroughly grounded in the principles of voice control. The most earth shattering crescendos find the voice expanding without ever becoming raucous, while the tiniest whispers remain entirely musical. With Julius Drake providing strong support on the piano, this recital was always set to be memorable.
Maltman sang the twelve songs that make up the Liederkreis Op. 39, all with texts by Eichendorff. The opening In der Fremde saw him produce the richest, most secure sound; in the following Intermezzo a splendidly rounded tone conveyed all of the joy and sadness inherent in the words, while in Waldesgesprch Maltmans voice frequently snapped between bold assertiveness and quieter tones in an instant.
Mondnacht felt like an ethereal meditation in which the sound seemed to come less from the diaphragm than the heart, while Wehmut saw Maltman find dignity amidst the sadness of the title. In Im Walde he generated the most intense sound before switching to his bass voice with staggering ease. The best was saved until last, however, as in Frhlingsnacht his cry rang out across the hall, growing more and more passionate by the second.
Gilchrist opened the evening with five songs to texts by Eichendorff and Kerner. In Trost im Gesang he really conveyed the sense of contentment that the title refers to, and showed a deep instinct for knowing when to drive phrases home and when to let them disappear into nothing. In Der Schatzgrber his voice shimmered with all the determination and intrigue associated with searching for treasure. In Frhlingsfahrt there was a spring in his voice as his hands appeared to caress and draw out the intricacies of every note, while Sngers Trost revealed the most dreamy head voice.
In the second half, Maltman sang four songs to texts by Hans Christian Andersen before Gilchrist launched into the Kerner Lieder Op. 35. In this breathtaking performance, highlights included the Wanderlied in which the jovial song was imbued with a touch of gravitas by virtue of the resonance in Gilchrists light voice, and the final Alte Laute, which was filled with melancholy and rapt contemplation.
Over the evening there were just a few tiny mistakes but, in the face of such wondrous singing, these became easy to forget and in no way marred anyones enjoyment of the music. Maltman, Gilchrist and Drake are a formidable combination.
There are two further concerts in the Schumann Bicentenary Series, Annus Mirabilis: the complete Songs of 1840 – Gerald Finlay sings on Friday 29 October, and Kate Royal and Ian Bostridge on Saturday 13 November. Julius Drake plays on both occasions.
Further details can be found at wigmore-hall.org