At the end of the evening, Wigmore Hall’s Director John Gilhooly made a presentation to Wolfgang Holzmair; a framed copy of the programme for his Wigmore debut back in 1989, when on November 7 with pianist Gérard Wyss the Austrian-born baritone included seven of the Schubert songs that he also essayed during this “Farewell Concert”, as it was billed.
A little premature, perhaps, although this Schubertiade certainly seems to be Holzmair’s final full recital at the prestigious London venue; but, as he was keen to tell us, he is working a “full calendar” throughout next year and, as Gilhooly previewed, the singer returns for masterclasses and also has an engagement with the Nash Ensemble in 2015. Holzmair remarked that he has made 37 appearances at Wigmore Hall to date.
So it was all-Schubert (at one stage it was Mahler), and not just a single composer but also a solitary poet, Johann Baptist Mayrhofer (1787-1836). He and Schubert were friends for a couple of years before some sort of cooling in the relationship took place; of the composer’s hundreds of Lieder, 47 of them set texts by Mayrhofer.
Holzmair was joined by Imogen Cooper, their partnership a flowering of 22 years’ duration. Throughout, their meaningful collaboration was palpable, very much singer and pianist working as one, Cooper a masterly Schubertian in her own right (just a few weeks ago she graced Wigmore Hall with compelling accounts of the final three piano sonatas, D958-960), and to intensify what the ear heard during the 16 advertised songs in terms of teamwork, when acknowledging applause the artists always did so together, hand in hand. Holzmair sung all but one of the Lieder from memory and he was immersed in the words and the music. Whether he overdoes hand gestures, swaying and other body language is perhaps a question not to think too much about; in any case the poetry could always be read in the programme or the eyes closed. This was a serious evening, performed with profundity and poise, although there were moments when Holzmair’s voice was a little dry and colourless, and edgy in fortissimos; a warmer timbre was evident in lower dynamics.
A dramatic nature-inspired opening to the recital came with ‘Heliopolis II’ (D754), Cooper’s piano sounding from out of the welcoming applause, Holzmair living every syllable both expressively and descriptively. In ‘Philoktet’ (D540), the account was notable for Holzmair’s sustaining of the lyrical line and for Cooper’s sensitive playing. ‘Der entsühnte Orest’ (D699) concerns the murderous then purified Orestes, Cooper depicting the sea, Holzmair somewhat strenuous in fortissimos yet lovingly communicative elsewhere, as he also was in ‘Atys’ (D585) in which the melody was cherished, some words coloured for extra longing, to a gently undulating accompaniment. Cooper’s playing of the postlude was particularly tender.
The recital continued with the lament of ‘Fahrt zum Hades ‘ (D526) – ‘no sun, no stars’ – and the even greater despair of the nocturnal ‘Freiwilliges Versinken ‘ (D780), which might be thought of as self-exile to the oblivion of the title. After the interval, five more songs – from ‘Solitude’ to ‘Dissolution’ (hardly a joyous farewell for the singer, one might think), save ‘Einsamkeit ‘ (D620) is rather more an extended ballad, here lasting exactly 20 minutes. Holzmair required the music (which meant fewer gestures!) for this young man’s exhortation, wide-ranging in mood, beginning in funereal slowness and including a partying waltz, the many diversions vividly signalled by Cooper. This setting made and left a big impression, sublime in its latter stages, and did not seem to last as long as the watch reported. (While Cooper was playing a bridge passage, some coughing was heard from near the platform, which seemed to annoy Holzmair.) After the extended and extensive ‘Einsamkeit’ the remaining four songs seemed over in seconds, ‘Auflösung’ (D807) a deeply-felt ‘abschied’, ending with a diminuendo to a long silence.
Further details of Wigmore Hall concerts can be found at wigmore-hall.org.uk.