Opera + Classical Music Reviews

Echoes of Romanticism: The Nash Ensemble / Holzmair @ Wigmore Hall, London

19 November 2011


Always illuminating, the Nash Ensemble’s series of concerts exploring the links between Romantic and 20th century composers scored a great success with this beautifully planned programme, in which Mahler was the centrepiece. The hall was absolutely packed to hear one of the Wigmore’s favourite singers join the ensemble in a characteristically forthright and engaging performance.

Unabashed Romanticism began and ended the evening, Schubert’s Quartettsatz and Brahms’ Piano Quartet No 3 both being given expansive, exciting performances; you can always rely on the Nash to relish the drama of this kind of music. Webern’s Piano Quintet, sandwiched between the Schubert and the Mahler, belongs to that period when he was about to take the plunge into atonality, and the Nash emphasised its lyrical ‘feel’ rather than what a contemporary critic called its ‘wild confusion’.

The audience was mostly there to hear Wolfgang Holzmair sing Mahler, and he did not disappoint. Schoenberg’s 1919 arrangement of Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen might have been written for this baritone and these players, so intimate and convincing was the interpretation. Schoenberg’s reverence for Mahler showed in every bar, as did the singer’s – Holzmair may not colour words such as ‘wein’ and ‘silbern Lachen’ as some others do, but he still manages to sear the lines into your consciousness. He was at his most moving in the final lines of the second song, and the lyrical reflections of ‘Auf der Strasse steht ein Lindenbaum’.

The sweetness of the strings gave way to the more angular sound of the piano in three songs from Des Knaben Wunderhorn, chosen to depict moods from coquettish humour to grim resignation. Holzmair conveyed the drama of ‘Revelge’ with subtlety, concentrating more on the sadness than the terror, and he sang the tremendously challenging ‘Urlicht’ with his trademark sensitivity. Ian Brown provided idiomatic support throughout.

The next concert in the series is devoted to the music of Mendelssohn, Schoenberg and Schubert, with the main work the sublime String Quintet in C major.

Further details of Wigmore Hall concerts can be found at wigmore-hall.org


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