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Matthias Goerne [Photo by Marco Borggreve for harmonia mundi]
24 Sep 2009

Incomparable Schubert — Goerne at the Wigmore Hall Part 2

This programme of mostly solemn, elevated music based around songs on such themes as Evening, Death and Immutability was part of Matthias Goerne’s ‘Journey with Schubert’ during which he is recording the songs on eleven CDs and presenting the series in recitals all over the world. If the singing on this occasion is anything to go by, these recordings are set to become the standard to which other singers should aspire.

Matthias Goerne at Wigmore Hall, Part 2

Matthias Goerne (baritone), Alexander Schmalcz (piano)

Nacht und Träume; Der blinde Knabe; Hoffnung; Die Sterne; Vor meiner Wiege; Totengräbers Weise; Greisengesang; Tiefes Leid; Totengräbers Heimweh; An den Mond; Die Mainacht; An Silvia; Ständchen; Der Schäfer und der Reiter; Die Sommernacht; Erntelied; Herbstlied; Jägers Abendlied; Der liebliche Stern; An die Geliebte


Goerne’s unwavering legato, at once intimate and yet redolent of grandeur, is, frankly, matchless - no other singer, recorded or currently active, can sustain the long, flowing lines of songs such as ‘Nacht und Träume’ and ‘Im Abendrot’ with his ease, intensity and phenomenal breath control: this recital displayed that unique ability to tremendous effect. He began with the former song - daring as an introduction, but a wonderful way to establish the atmosphere of this sombre, deeply philosophical evening. Of course he respects the marking of langsam as few other singers can, yet he still sustains the inner rhythm of the lines: it was a pity that Alexander Schmalcz’ playing was a little on the heavy side.

I must have heard ‘Im Abendrot’ at least a hundred times in recital, but never like this - sehr langsam is the instruction, and Goerne intones the spacious, expansive melody with such quiet fervour that you find yourself holding your breath: the silence in the hall after ‘In mein stilles fenster sinkt’ was like the lull before a huge storm, far away yet imminently expected. Superb.

Graham Johnson wrote of ‘Die Sterne’ (Schlegel) that the singer with the breath control needed to execute its phrases ‘seems synonymous with someone who has ‘seen the light’ and this most unusual of Schubert’s ‘star’ songs indeed presents lofty challenges, to each of which Goerne rises with great skill, his shimmering high notes displayed to as much advantage as his warm, bass-baritone depths.

‘Der liebliche Stern’ has been described as a ‘humdrum’ song, but not here - Goerne’s tender, earnest phrasing and Schmalcz’ wistful playing of the ostinato accompaniment made for an intense experience, ‘Es zittert von Frühlingswinden’ living up to Gerald Moore’s requirement for the singer to ‘love each phrase’ and to sing with ‘the smoothest calmest line.’

‘Totengräbers Heimweh’ is the song of which it was once said that Goerne’s interpretation of it was ‘incomparable - his singing comes from inside’ and this was amply illustrated by this evening’s performance of it. From the fervid questioning of the start - ‘Wohin? o wohin?’ through the anguished depths of ‘Ich stehe allein! - so ganz allein!’ to the spellbinding mezza-voce of ‘O Heimat des Friedens, Der Seligen Land!’ in which the long phrases were given in one seemingly effortless arch of sound, this truly was singing with which it is very difficult to find anything to compare. The single encore, ‘An den Mond’ (‘Fullest wieder Busch und Tal’) was a fitting conclusion to this evening of peerless singing.

Melanie Eskenazi

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