Matthias Goerne is now well into his exploration of Schubert’s songs, both on his Harmonia Mundi recording and his Wigmore Hall series.This concert, dedicated to the memory of the writer and critic Patrick O’Connor, who died last week, was a mostly sombre journey through introspective songs by mostly minor poets.
The programme was artfully planned to provide a narrative from ‘Der Jngling und der Tod’ with its plea to loosen the bonds of life, through the consolations of ‘Der Wanderer’ and ‘An die Musik’ and finally on to the reflections of Mayrhofer’s ‘Liedesend’ where the old king realizes that music can no longer console him despite its previous power.
Perhaps fittingly, the first two songs seemed raw and edgy, with the usually genial ‘Das Lied im Grnen’ touched with a sense of unease in ‘Wir klglich die grnende Zeit nicht versaumt’ (We’ll not have missed the verdant years). With ‘Die Herbstnacht’ and its exhortation to Melancholy, both Goerne and Deutsch seemed more at ease, if that can be said of these troubled songs, and both ‘An mein Herz’ and ‘ber Wildemann’ allowed us to experience the singer’s matchless legato and his sense of the undercurrents of despair beneath the most seemingly carefree music: Deutsch’s mastery of those insistent beats in the former song was breathtaking.
The second half should perhaps have begun with ‘Des Fruleins Liebeslauschen’ since ‘An die Laute’ was taken rather straight-lacedly and the promised ‘Der Schmetterling’ had somehow flown away. ‘Love’s Serenade’ however showed Goerne at his most beguiling, its delicacy contrasting with the reverence of ‘Du bist die Ruh’ and ‘An die Musik.’ The Rckert was taken with extreme, prayerful slowness, sung as if directly from the heart, and ‘An die Musik’ revealed Goerne’s sublime darker tones as well as Deutsch’s ability to support the voice yet provide his own level of impassioned commitment.
The final songs were both farewells of different kinds. ‘Abschied von der Harfe’ is far too infrequently performed; it’s a wonderful piece to play, challenging yet utterly mesmerizing once you’ve got the hang of Schubert’s evocation of the instrument’s sound, but it needs singing of great inwardness to convey its message of immortality through music: Goerne excelled here, as he did in the far more melancholy ‘Liedesend’ which closed the programme without any nods in the direction of levity: music may have the power to bring us closer to the sublime, but perhaps its magic is limited to consolation ‘Wie hast du mich erfreut!’