Opera + Classical Music Reviews

Matthias Goerne, A Celebration: Goerne/Christ & Goerne/Haefliger @ Wigmore Hall, London

25, 27 September 2013

Wigmore Hall

Wigmore Hall (Photo: The Wigmore Hall Trust)

These two recitals form part of a mini-series in which Matthias Goerne presents his interpretations of some of the greatest works in the Lieder genre; after a three year absence from the Wigmore, it’s clear that his unique skill with words and his fine-spun legato line remain unequalled. The recitals were starkly contrasting: the first, with the accompaniment of Sarah Christ’s harp, concentrated on mostly well-loved Schubert, whilst the second was an uncompromising evening of the most hard core Wolf and Liszt.

‘Im Frühling’ is the perfect vehicle for the harp – that sense of a serenade, of a stringed instrument accompanying the lover’s reflections, was perfectly captured by Sarah Christ, and its poignant aura of joys tasted and longed for was finely etched by Goerne’s warm, sympathetic tone. Goethe’s Gesänge des Harfners was an inspired choice, Schubert’s setting of the poems given new perspectives by the sometimes anxiously twanging, sometimes ethereally fading harp. The narrative of the lonely singer was superbly told, from the raw anguish of ‘Ja! Lassst mich meiner Qual!’ to the assertive power of ‘Denn alle Schuld rächt sich auf Erden.’

‘Im Abendrot’ demands an unbroken legato, unaffected yet firm phrasing and a sense of understated awe in the interpretation of the words; since these are all characteristic of Goerne, it was hardly surprising that this song was the high point of the evening. ‘Lied eines Schiffers an die Dioskuren’ was almost as mesmerizing, the gentle harp evocative of the oars’ motion, and the lines sung as though in confidence to the twin stars.

That sense of intimacy and confederacy was an even stronger part of the second recital, this time with Andreas Haefliger’s piano in support of Goerne’s evocation of a narrative of love, doubt and loss, beginning and ending with Wolf, taking in a few lesser known Liszt pieces which were finely attuned to the theme. Wolf’s ‘Peregrina II’ is marked sehr innig, and this instruction influenced the whole recital, in which ‘innigkeit’ was taken to a new level, the silence in the hall like that before a great storm. The final lines of ‘An die Geliebte’ and ‘Fühlt meine Seele’ can Seldom have been sung with more eloquence, ‘Ich knie, ihrem Lichtgesang zu lauschen’ spun on a fine thread of sound.

The Harfenspieler poems made a second appearance, now in Wolf’s setting and more troubling and melancholy when evoked by Haefliger’s fervent playing and Goerne’s anguished singing, in what Joseph Spaun described (speaking of Schubert’s singing of Winterreise) as “a voice wrought with emotion .” The recital proper closed with a tremendous performance of ‘Morgenstimmung’ with its defiant final cry of ‘Herr, lass uns kämpfen, lass uns siegen!’ crowned with a nachspiel from Haefliger which almost had us all on our feet.

The single encore was the sublime ‘Anakreons Grab,’ sung and played exactly as Wolf instructed, Sehr Langsam und Ruhig, the hushed intensity and the ineffable tenderness of the phrasing giving testament to the essence of this singer’s art; the rests alone in that magical final line, ‘Von dem Winter hat ihn endlich / der Hügel geschützt’ were sheer perfection.

Further details of Wigmore Hall concerts can be found at wigmore-hall.org.uk.

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