The Wigmores recital series Decade by Decade 100 years of German song 1810-1910 continued on Tuesday with Christopher Maltman singing songs from the period 1820-30. It was a decade that saw the death of Schubert, introduced the world to Felix and Fanny Mendelssohn, and witnessed an ever greater expansion of the German song industry.
The first half was dedicated to Schubert, covering songs set to poems by Friedrich von Schlegel, Johann Baptist Mayrhofer and Ernst Konrad Schulze. Of the von Schlegel songs, it was Abendrte that encapsulated much of what made Maltmans performances so spellbinding throughout the evening. His voice swelled from the light, high opening to something much richer and broader in a second. Then, if that wasnt enough, it continued to expand to another level entirely before gracefully relaxing into a deeper bass voice for the close. Im Walde similarly demonstrated the extent of his voices capabilities. It could come across as passionate, combining lightness with resonance and gravitas, but also be rough-edged while remaining thoroughly musical.
Maltmans performances of the Mayrhofer poems were similarly revealing. In Heliopolis I he built from the opening deep sound to ensure that the same richness of tone was maintained even when the song became higher. In Heliopolis II there were surges of power in his voice, while in the tender Gondelfahrer (The gondolier) his phrasing was so exquisite that one could practically feel the sound disappearing into the Venetian air.
Pianist Malcolm Martineau, who is overseeing the Decade by Decade series, was also on top form. It took rare skill in the Schulze poems to keep Im Frhling on just the right side of sentimentality, and to give appropriate gravitas to the more exuberant Auf der Brcke.
In the second half it was a treat to hear two substantial songs by Carl Loewe. I do not think I have ever heard a cry of anguish sound quite as musical as it did from Maltman in Erlknig, while his performance of Herr Oluf, a ballad with dark undertones, was full of expression. Needless to say, the huge round of applause it received was richly deserved.
Despite the generous programming, as the evening drew to an inevitable conclusion via songs from Felix and Fanny Mendelssohn, three further contributions from Schubert and two superlative encores, it felt all too brief. But with Maltman and Martineau performing at this level, they could have continued for hours and still left the audience wanting more.
This concert was recorded for a future broadcast on Radio 3 (unspecified at the time of writing). The Decade by Decade series continues on 5 November when Angelika Kirchschlager and Malcolm Martineau perform songs from the decade 1830-40.
Further details of Wigmore Hall concerts can be found at wigmore-hall.org