Opera + Classical Music Reviews

Gerhaher / Huber @ Staatsoper, Munich (online)

4 May 2020

With venues closed, Melanie Eskenazi finds that live musical treats can still be had

Bavarian State Opera

Bavarian State Opera (Photo: Keith McDonnell)

One’s living room may not be the Wigmore Hall or the even more opulent Munich opera house, but these Monday live performances are doing a pretty good job of standing in for actually attending recitals – indeed, it would be a very special week-and-a-bit which provided a Lieder recital from both Jonas Kaufmann and Christian Gerhaher at the usual venues. Today’s concert was a complete contrast to the previous one, in which Kaufmann and Helmut Deutsch had given us a searingly dramatic, poetic Dichterliebe – this one was a much lower key evening, as you might expect from this baritone.

The contrasts began with each singer’s presentation – Kaufmann communicated with us as though we were present – startlingly so at times – with no score between him and his ‘audience.’ Gerhaher was score-bound throughout, even for the better-known Schubert settings – Kaufmann seemed to want to leap out of the screen, whereas Gerhaher seemed content to keep to his own, much quieter world. Both Gerold Huber and Helmut Deutsch played superbly as always, and it is probably easier for them to maintain their usual poise than it is for a singer. There also seemed to be a difference in how the auditorium was lit – for Kaufmann, the stalls seemed starkly outlined in brightness, for Gerhaher they seemed more muted.

“These sublime lieder, set to the poems of one of the composer’s closest friends, are demanding in their variety and requirements for expressive nuance.”

Elegance of phrasing, beauty of tone and nobility of manner are this baritone’s hallmarks, and they were shown to perfection in Dvořák’s Biblical Songs. Reverence and a sense of the intense seriousness of the subject matter are essential here, as is brilliance in the piano part, all of which were finely demonstrated in the lovely ‘God is my Shepherd’ and the delicate blending of voice and piano at the close of ‘Hear my Prayer.’ This part of the concert closed with a brief Wolf selection.

Schubert’s Mayrhofer settings were the evening’s major work. These sublime lieder, set to the poems of one of the composer’s closest friends, are demanding in their variety and requirements for expressive nuance. In ‘Abendstern’ the hesitant questioning of ‘Was weilst du einsam an den Himmel?’ (Why do you linger alone in the sky?) was finely done, as was the forlorn reply ‘Und bleibe trauernd still daheim.’ (‘I remain here, silent and mournful.’) Huber’s accompaniment to ‘Sehnsucht’ was a small miracle of delicacy, as was his lilting playing of the unexpectedly light-hearted ‘Gondelfahrer.’ It’s fairly standard to close a Schubert recital with the lovely ‘Abschied,’ its sense of serenity even in the midst of sorrow a challenge to both singer and pianist, here achieved with the naturalness and subtlety we have come to expect from this partnership.

This concert can be streamed from 6 May until 20 May at staatsoper.de/tv

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