Opera + Classical Music Reviews

Lott / Kirchschlager @ Wigmore Hall, London

20 November 2009

Angelika Kirchschlager

Angelika Kirchschlager

The Kirchschlager and Friends Song Recital Series contrasts two versions of ‘A Woman’s Life and Love.’

‘Two Women’s Lives and Loves’ followed the outline of Chamisso’s Frauenliebe und Leben, the famous Schumann setting juxtaposed with Carl Loewe’s less familiar version, the Schumann mostly given to the soprano and the Loewe to the mezzo.

As Graham Johnson remarks in his characteristically perceptive notes, it is as if “two women were feeling similar emotions but fixing their gaze on different men in different tessituras.” Throughout the evening, the haunting strains of various vor- and nach-spielen from Schumann’s work linked the songs to mesmerising effect.

Graham Johnson was here in his element, masterminding an occasion which felt as spontaneous as any recital can, yet which was firmly grounded in a recording and previous performances which have deepened the relationship between the two singers it was an evening almost entirely free of the kind of embarrassing coyness and cutesiness which tend to mar many duet recitals, save for the unnecessary shriek of ‘Ooh, the post!’ at one point unnecessary because Johnson had launched into a vigorous rendition of the introduction to the thirteenth song from Winterreise.

Both singers were in wonderful voice, Angelika Kirchschlager’s richer, deeper tone complementing Lott’s still-vibrant soprano, and the evening was full of treasurable moments. In the first half, Felicity Lott’s breath control in ‘Seit ich ihn gesehen’ was a marvel of technical skill in the service of the music, and Kirchschlager’s phrasing in the Loewe version of the same poem shaped the lines with perfect tenderness. The mezzo’s passionate expressiveness and warm tone were heard at their finest in Brahms’ ‘Was für ein Lied soll dir gesungen werden’ and ‘Mädchenlied‘ and the voices blended ideally in Schumann’s ‘Botschaft.’

Inevitably, there were times when hearing the Loewe felt like being given a lesson in how superior Schumann is nowhere more so than in just three lines from ‘Helft mir, ihr Schwestern’ which Lott invested with powerful intensity of feeling. However, it was still illuminating to hear the composers in this context, especially when the two versions of ‘An meinem Herzen, an meiner Brust’ were juxtaposed, Loewe’s the more folksy and comfortable, the Schumann replete with fervour. The final ‘Bitter Loss,’ Love Everlasting’ segment was made up of brief, bleak extracts from the closing songs of each cycle, contrasting with the hopeful duets of Brahms’ ‘Klnge’ and Schumann’s ‘So war die Sonne scheinet’ where the sweetness of the harmony reminded us that it is possible for love to survive death: Johnson’s fervent playing of the echo of ‘Seit ich ihn gesehen’ closed these reflections in a mood of quiet rapture.

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