German baritone Hanno Müller-Brachmann has been trumpeted as one of the country’s most promising young baritones.
It was disappointing, however, that his Wigmore Hall debut failed to live up to expectations.
A lot of mitigating circumstances may need to be taken into consideration when evaluating Müller-Brachmann’s debut London recital as it was one of the most dispiriting I have been to in a long while.
The programme, devised by pianist Andrs Schiff, was called ‘Songs With and Without Words’, and therefore allowed the inclusion of Mendelssohn’s Variations srieuses in D Minor, which Schiff dispatched with panache, authority and a lightness of touch, qualities that were sorely lacking elsewhere during the evening.
The vocal programme, including two sets of Goethe Lieder, one by Schubert and one by Busoni and Brahms’ Vier ernste Gesnge (Four serious songs) would have tested the stamina and willpower of even the most ardent Lied-devotee, as their overall mood was so downbeat. For such a venture you need a larger-than-life singer who can stamp their personality on each song. Unfortunately Hanno Mller-Brachmann, despite his pedigree, was not up to the task.
The opening Schubert exposed both his qualities and weaknesses. He has a relatively bright tone for a bass-baritone and, as expected, his diction was impeccable. He was certainly more at ease in the quiet introspection of Meeres Stille, (Calm sea), where he caressed the phrases with loving care, than in the declamatory An Schwager Kronos (To Coachman Chronos) but the voice lacks colour and definition and sounded pretty similar in everything he sang.
His pitch tended to waver under pressure and at full tilt was harsh on the ear. The Busoni songs require pinpoint accuracy and a sardonic bite, neither of which are attributes of Mller-Brachmann’s vocal armoury, whilst he and Schiff merely skated over the surface of Brahms’ wonderful Vier ernste Gesnge, (Four serious songs).
Mller-Brachmann is a member of the Deutsche Staatsoper and has attracted a lot of positive press interest. He is an outstanding Papageno on the Abbado Die Zauberflte recording so this recital was eagerly anticipated, which makes the ordinariness of it all the more baffling. The Wigmore Hall audience remains one of the most discerning in London and its muted response to the evening said it all.