On being presented with the Wigmore Medal, Christian Gerhaher gave a graceful speech in which he expressed the wish that he could cut the medal in half so that his accompanist could receive an equal honour. It is this kind of self-effacing style which is so admired in his singing, and his partnership with Gerold Huber, who has few equals in the art of Lieder, is a rare and special thing.
Dvořák’s Biblical Songs, composed in New York in 1894, are also rare in that they are not often heard in recital, perhaps unsurprisingly since they make tremendous demands on singer, pianist and audience. From the first lines of ‘Clouds and Darkness’ we were aware that this was to be a magisterial performance; indeed, if you closed your eyes you could imagine a massive Russian bass up there, sonorously intoning sentiments such as ‘…all the earth rejoiceth in his greatness.’ The very beautiful ‘God is my shepherd’ was sung and played with reverent care, and voice and piano blended as one at the close of ‘Hear my prayer, O Lord.’
The high point of the Schumann group which closed the concert’s first half was ‘Lied eines Schmiedes’ (Blacksmith’s song) – so seemingly insignificant a piece, yet composed with such delicate skill and played and sung with such finesse that it lingered long in the memory after the evening was over.
The second part of the recital was all Schumann, with the Kerner Lieder Op 35 providing yet another example of the strength of this partnership’s art. ‘Stirb, Lieb’ and Freud!’ was sung with mesmerizing fervour, and ‘Auf das Trinkglas eines verstorbenen Freundes’ conveyed both the friend’s devotion and the mysterious nature of memory. In ‘Erstes Grün’ Huber’s playing of the wonderful major-mode lines of the piano part superbly counterpointed the song’s sadness. ‘Alte Laute’ ended the recital proper on a wistfully enigmatic note, ‘Weckt mich ein Engel nur’ left open to question. ‘Mein schöner Stern’ was the single, finely performed encore.