One of the delights of the Wigmore Halls Decade by Decade 100 years of German song 1810-1910 series is the way in which its featured singers have all been so varied in tone. Each has shown both their individual voice and the decade in question at its best.
The Wigmore was lucky to find, at relatively short notice, a distinguished replacement for Dorothea Rschmann in Roman Trekel. The German may not enjoy as high a profile in Britain as Schade, Maltman or Kirchschlager, the first three performers in the series, but, if so, that is Britains loss. Trekels is a deep, dark voice that also demonstrates considerable flexibility in tackling music in a variety of ranges and moods. He certainly put his own mark on these songs.
The recital, covering the decade 1840-50, featured Lieder by Mendelssohn, Robert and Clara Schumann and Loewe, and from the outset Trekel proved how suited he was to this music. The Mendelssohn section began with the merry Warnung vor deim Rheim (a poem by Karl Simrock) in which a father warns his son against going to the Rhine with words that will surely tempt him there. Trekels voice was broad, but he applied the necessary lightness to those passages that required it, the third verse eliciting a smoky musical whisper. Venetianisches Gondellied then saw Trekel apply the same principles that underscore his voice to a more sad, foreboding song.
Though still a good start to the concert, the Mendelssohn songs arguably found Trekel at his least comfortable. Perhaps because he had had relatively little time to prepare, he did seem to hold tight to his music, his facial expressions being limited and his arm gestures virtually non-existent. No such problem, however, was apparent in Robert Schumanns Liederkreis Op.24 that followed. Schumann was at his song writing best in 1840, composing no less than 125, and Trekel tackled this cycle with all the confidence and sensitivity that it merits. Particularly impressive was the smoothness of his phrasing in Morgens steh ich auf und frage and the brilliant lightness of his upper register in Ich wandelte unter den Bumen.
After the interval, Trekel performed four wondrous songs by Clara Schumann. In Sie liebten sich beide he brought out all of the anguish inherent in the stupidity of two people who went to their graves never revealing that they loved one another. Similarly, in Lorelei he captured both the beauty of the voices and the coldness of the hearts of these aquatic temptresses.
The evening ended with three epic songs by Carl Loewe. The longest of these was the ballad Der Graf von Habsburg in which the Emperor listening to a song within the song realises that he is the noble Count that it describes. Both Trekel and Malcolm Martineau on piano proved particularly adept at storytelling, breaking down the narrative into a series of chapters, and constantly adjusting their sounds to suit the required mood. It revealed just how much intelligence there was in these performances, and Roman Trekel is a singer of whom I would like to hear a lot more.
The Decade by Decade series continues on 25 January 2011 when Bernarda Fink and Malcolm Martineau perform songs from the decade 1850-60.
Further details can be found at wigmore-hall.org