Opera + Classical Music Reviews

Konstantin Krimmel / Malcolm Martineau @ Wigmore Hall, London

17 September 2020

Wigmore Hall

Wigmore Hall (Photo: Benjamin Ealovega)

A last minute replacement at the Wigmore Hall delivers. Melanie Eskenazi is impressed.

Travel restrictions having prevented Florian Boesch from getting to London for his scheduled recital, the Wigmore Hall needed to find a suitable replacement in a fairly short time – and they excelled themselves in choosing this 27 year old German / Romanian baritone, who gave a remarkably polished performance. He had the inestimable advantage of the presence of Malcolm Martineau at the piano, providing stalwart support alongside his superbly sensitive playing. Mr Krimmel immediately gained full marks from me for the absence of a score; try as I might I cannot understand why a native German speaker is unable to perform Schubert without having his nose in the music and words, and Mr Krimmel managed not only that but the wordy Loewe ballads as well, unimpeded by a stand and booklet.

The evening’s first group was an all-Schubert one, based around the theme of the Wanderer and opening with the setting of the von Lübeck poem bearing that title. It’s the perfect introductory song, often featuring in other singers’ programmes in that role; the music is by turns tender and dramatic, allowing the singer to demonstrate his mastery of legato and breath control. Kimmel caught exactly the right tone of aching melancholy without too much indulgence, the central phrase ‘Ich bin ein Fremdling überall’ (I am a stranger everywhere) beautifully shaped. Martineau’s playing was as elegant and supportive as we expect from him.

Schubert was only eighteen when he set Hölty’s poem ‘An den Mond’ yet the song is already full of that sense of longing so redolent of the composer. Martineau and Kimmel gave a poignant reading of it, the fervent lines gently emphasized and the tender ones given just the right sense of melancholy without mawkishness. ‘Wandrers Nachtlied’ with its deceptively simple lines, was sung and played with captivating directness, the atmosphere of Goethe’s poem so finely echoed by Schubert’s music. Finally ‘Der Wanderer an den Mond’ closed the group with its blend of stoic determination and piquant sadness, in a kind of ‘answer’ to the first song. This perfect example of the Schubertian ‘gehende bewegung’ was sung and played with ideal tenderness.

“Mr Krimmel immediately gained full marks from me for the absence of a score…”

In the notes to his recording of Loewe ballads, Krimmel says that he chose ballads about dwarfs, kings and supernatural beings in order to express “…human longing for love and perfection and the constant struggle with forces of destiny that oppose it.” The Loewe group here provided plenty of demonstrations of that struggle, with ‘Herr Oluf’ allowing singer and pianist to give full rein to some thunderous virtuosity, and ‘Erlkönig’ showcasing Martineau’s ability to replicate both the rhythm of the galloping horse and the deceptively soothing blandishments of the Elf King.

Three songs by Ravel were perhaps the slightly weak link in the programme, but they were followed by two of Wolf’s Mörike-Lieder which were given slyly humorous and very engaging performances, especially in the closing lines of ‘Abschied’ with its bravura nachspiel. Two Schubert settings were the encores, the first ‘Hoffnung’ which Krimmel introduced as “what we need the most at this time” and finally ‘Wandrers Nachtlied’ sung and played with grave tenderness. It was certainly a pleasure to be their Rezensent!

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Konstantin Krimmel / Malcolm Martineau @ Wigmore Hall, London