Opera + Classical Music Reviews

Prégardien father and son / Gees @ Wigmore Hall, London

27 November 2014

There might be nothing new about more than one tenor sharing the concert platform, nor anything new about gifted parents sharing the stage with their children. It’s quite a rare thing however for a father and son tenor pairing, Christoph and Julian Prégardien, to prepare an innovative programme that largely constitutes arrangements for two voices of a healthy cross-section of the German lied canon.

If one might have been tempted to think that Christoph was using his name to help promote Julian’s career, the evidence of the evening suggested that this was not the prime motivation, as Julian already has a well-established career. This recital, given to coincide with the release of an associated recording, featured the performers’ own arrangements and they largely played to their own performing strengths. Throughout it all, Michael Gees, Christoph Prégardien’s long-time recital accompanist, provided support with a lightness of touch that repeatedly brought to mind the refined artistry of Gerald Moore or Geoffrey Parsons.

Each half of the programme contained a pair of songs by Friedrich Silcher (1789-1860), once widely performed but now rather out of fashion, and a robust selection of songs by Schubert. These were prefaced in the first half by a quartet of songs by Mozart and a couple by Beethoven. Mozart’s ‘Sehnsucht nach dem Frühlinge’ served to immediately introduce and contrast the voices with the verse alternating between the singers: on the whole Christoph proved the deeper voice with a crispness of timbre, whilst Julian appeared the more ardent and ripe of tone, if at times a little impetuous. Their arrangement of ‘Abendempfindung’ had all the necessary flow at a moderate tempo, even though one sensed a judicious amount of playing with the tempo being done as things progressed to accommodate both singers. ‘Komm, liebe Zither, Komm’ proved a vehicle for Julian to work effectively with the narrative of the final two stanzas, whilst ‘An Chloe,’ sung by Julian, put across with ease the feeling of an ardent lover confessing details of his latest conquest to his father. Beethoven’s ‘Der Kuß’ also proved a young man’s song for Julian as he sought emphasis of the ecstasy he caused his lover in his use of the text. By contrast, Christoph sought through his solo performance of’ Neue Liebe, neues Leben’ to bring a lifetime’s experience of teasing out the nuance of text with apparently minimal effort. The second half began with a quartet of Brahms’ lieder, all of which, but most especially ‘Die Sonne scheint nicht mehr,’ were sung rather emphatically by the duo and perhaps a touch more subtlety might have been found in the texts.

The four songs by Silcher were somewhat coolly received by the audience, though there was little in the performances that should have prompted this reaction. Perhaps the reason lay more in the songs themselves, since ‘Ännchen von Tharau ‘was rather formal in its construction, though it allowed for some well match sensitivity to be evident in the singing. The impetus behind ‘Frisch gesungen’ (Sing merrily) was slightly lacking to make it match the expectation of the title, since an overtone of melancholy was present. The duet version of’ O wie herbe ist das Scheiden’ gave the stage to one of Silcher’s folksong settings, of which he was an acknowledged master in his day, and together the Prégardien pair found a certain jewel-like simplicity within it. The setting of ‘Loreley’, to Heine’s text, began acapella and following the gentlest introduction of the piano accompaniment proceeded to singing of innate feeling for the sentiments behind the words.

Of the thirteen Schubert songs included across the evening, some grabbed the limelight more than others. Splitting the narrative of ‘Erlkönig’ between the two singers might have more readily brought out the character, but in doing so it sacrificed a little of the dramatic content due to minor instances of pitch control between the singers. ‘Die Nacht’ lingered in the mind long after the song had finished, whilst the theme of the sea and sea-faring ran through much of the rest of the selection. Together all three performers showed the requisite feeling for Schubertian line and dynamics, even if their re-worked versions might have to try harder to dislodge the originals from the lieder aficionado consciousness on a longer term basis.

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

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Prégardien father and son / Gees @ Wigmore Hall, London