Not content with interpreting the great song cycles so that audiences feel they are experiencing them anew, Matthias Goerne has now moved on to inventing his own cycles, this time a combination of six songs from Shostakovich’s Michelangelo Suite of 1974, with ten Lieder by Mahler, all but one of these on the theme of death. It sounds like a heavy evening, but in partnership with Leif Ove Andsnes’ searing accompaniment, Goerne delivered a life-enhancing programme laden with his characteristic seriousness and intensity.
The narrative of this ‘cycle’ moved from the bliss of Mahler’s ‘Ich atmet’ einen linden Duft’ through the anguish of Shostakovich’s ‘Razluka’ (Separation) and the world-weariness of Mahler’s ‘Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen’ to the melancholy reflections on life and death of Shostakovich’s ‘Smert’ (Death) and the brutal leave-taking of Mahler’s ‘Der Tamboursg’sell’ – yet, we were not left in a state of hopelessness, the single encore of Beethoven’s ‘An die Hoffnung’ imparting a sense of what Goerne once referred to as “bringing the audience into the light.”
Goerne’s singing continues to develop in its depth, fervour and commitment: I’ve written many times about the genuinely mesmerizing quality of his performances, his long-spun legato lines and his sensitivity to language, and all these qualities were in evidence here. Mahler’s ‘Wo die schönen Trompeten blasen’ revealed not only the singer’s matchless phrasing, especially in ‘O Lieb’ auf grüner Erden’ but the closeness of his partnership with Andsnes, the piano seeming to breathe with the voice in every bar.
Kindertotenlieder in any form is a devastating work, and the two selections from it here were no exception, the phrases ‘O Augen’ and ‘Ihr wolltet mir mit eurem Leuchten sagen’ in ‘Nun seh’ Ich wohl, warum so dunkle Flammen’ delivered with heart-rending ardour. ‘Urlicht’ brought the first half to a close, in a performance of remarkable inwardness from Goerne and superb virtuosity from Andsnes.
‘Bessmertiye’ (Immortality) was set by Shostakovich as the ending of the cycle, but here it was performed as the third of seven songs, its ‘will o’ the wisp’ accompaniment played with insouciant skill and its triumphant assertion of the artist’s place in the world conveyed with absolute mastery. Mahler’s ‘Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen’ considers a different aspect of the artist’s role, namely his isolation from the world, an isolation beautifully evoked by Goerne’s understatedly fervent closing lines.
There was no understatement about the interpretation of Mahler’s ‘Revelge’ and ‘Der Tamboursg’sell’ – each was sung and played with devastating power, the bitterness and futility of the youthful deaths made achingly clear. Andsnes’ playing of the grim drum-roll in the final song would have been enough to have some of us heading straight to the nearest bridge, had it not been for the sweet benison of Beethoven’s ‘An die Hoffnung’ which sent us all home with a sense of fulfilment rather than despair.
Further details of Wigmore Hall concerts can be found at wigmore-hall.org.uk.