You could not ask for a more appropriate singer than Werner Gra to commemorate Schuberts birthday; he even looks like the composer, or at least as Schubert might have looked had he lived long enough to acquire a genuine greise kopf. Richard Capell said of Schuberts music that it had the variety and unsurprising naturalness of moving water and springing herb, and although one might ask for a bit more variety in vocal colour, Gras special quality is his unforced naturalness. This was especially evident in Der Wanderer an den Mond, one of those walking songs where voice and piano create the steady motion of a lone wanderer; Gra sang it with beguiling ease, yet evoked the melancholy of the poets lot.
Roger Vignoles is always a supportive accompanist, but there were times during the first half of this recital where he seemed to want to run ahead of the singer, especially in Im Frhling and Bei dir allein! although he produced wonderfully fluent playing in Sehnsucht. The last is a challenge for any singer, and Gra met its demands with expressive skill. This is what you might call an old-fashioned voice that is, reliant more on lovely tone and a sense of bonhomie rather than the more daring and angular interpretations of many other current singers.
The second part of the recital commenced with Der Wanderer, an appropriate pairing to the first song of the evening; this was probably the best singing of the night, Wo bist du, mein geliebtes Land! given with aching melancholy. Wandrers Nachtlied was also finely sung is it possible to sing this masterpiece any less than that? The Heine songs from Schwanengesang found both singer and pianist in varying form, Der Atlas somewhat underpowered, but Am Meer displaying a broad and confident legato. Naturally, Die Taubenpost was the encore, the sublime Sie heisst die Sehnsucht given just enough pressure to make all the Schubertians sigh with pleasure.
The concert was broadcast live on BBC Radio 3 and can be heard on the BBC iPlayer.
Further details of Wigmore Hall concerts can be found at wigmore-hall.org