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Matthias Goerne [Photo by Marco Borggreve]
28 Sep 2013

Matthias Goerne: Hugo Wolf and Franz Liszt

Matthias Goerne and Andreas Haefliger’s recital at the Wigmore Hall was eagerly anticipated. Goerne and Haefliger are a Dream Team, who have worked together for over 15 years.

Hugo Wolf, Franz Liszt : Matthias Goerne, Andreas Haefliger, Wigmore Hall, London 27th September 2013

A review by Anne Ozorio

Above: Matthias Goerne [Photo by Marco Borggreve]


In the audience were many who had heard Goerne before he became famous, and some who knew Andreas Haefliger’s father, the tenor Ernst Haefliger. An audience like this doesn’t need popular tidbits. Goerne and Haefliger performed Wolf and Liszt with intense, passionate commitment. Even by the very high standards of the Wigmore Hall, this was an evening to remember.

Hugo Wolf’s Peregrina I and II (1888) set the mood. Peregrina was a real, if mysterious woman, a beautiful semi-vagrant, extremely well read and intellectual, though tinged with religious mania. Eduard Mörike, a nice Lutheran pastor, was intrigued because she represented a wild, exotic alternative to conventional mores. The piano part seems worshipful, but when Goerne sang the phrase “....Tod im Kelch der Sünden”, the poisonous danger in the reverie could not be mistaken. Wolf set only two of Mörike’s five Peregrina poems, but the ending of Peregrina II might suggest why. The poet is in the midst of a family celebration. But in the midst of the festivities, the ghost of Peregrina comes to him, and they walk out, hand in hand. Goerne expressed the horror, but also the excitement. After 150 years, Peregrina continues to taunt, tempt and tantalize.

In contrast, Wolf’s An der Geliebte, also to a poem by Mörike, seemed heartfelt relief. Goerne’s voice these days is freer and brighter at the top. In the two Wolf Reinick songs Liebesbotschaft and Nachtgruß (both 1883), he could bring out the images of light and transparency to great effect.

These very early songs thus served as a good prelude to Wolf at his craggiest, the Three Lieder to texts by Michelangelo (1897). These songs, originally written for bass, have long been Goerne specialities, for they fit his natural register so well. Haefliger delineated the firm opening chords, so when Goerne’s voice emerged, it seemed hewn from stone. In Wohl denk’ ich oft , the two strophes contrast past and present. Once, the poet thought “to live for song alone” though “im jeder Tag verloren für mich war”. Now he’s famous - and censured - “Und, dass ich da bin, wissen alle Leute!” Goerne brought out the bitter irony, his voice spitting the consonants in the last line, contrasting with the firm round vowels of “alle”. Two parallel realities embedded in the structure of the song.

Haefliger’s chords struck like purposeful hammerblows in Alles endet, was entstehet. Goerne sang with nobility, the smoothness of his legato giving the song an elegaic quality. Yet this was no marble monument. When Goerne sang “Alles, alles rings vergehet!”,, he expressed human, personal anguish. In the final song, Fühlt meine Seele, the poet wonders whether his art has been inspired by “Licht von Gott”. When Goerne sang “ich weiss es nicht”, he expressed something altogether more complex. The strength in his timbre suggested where Michelangelo’s deepest convictions lay.

Franz Liszt expressed himself ideally in his works for piano, and in some ways his songs work best as Lieder-in-reverse, where the piano sings and the voice accompanies. That in itself makes them an interesting part of the repertoire. Haefliger came to the fore. He played the introductions and postludes elegantly, but with the focus on meaning that differentiates piano song from piano solo. In Ein Fichtenbaum steht einsam (S309/1 c 1855) the piano’s sparkling, twinkling chords describe snowfall and starlight. Heine’s poem is more ironic, for he imagines the spruce tree imagining itself a palm. For Liszt, though, the atmosphere is magic, and we marvel in its beauty.

More conventional poets seem to bring out the best in Liszt. In Laßt mich ruhen (S314 1858) to a poem by Hoffmann von Fallersleben , Liszt creates the “Mondes Silberhelle auf des Baches dunkler Welle” so vividly that the song is almost tone poem. Ich möchte hingehen (S296, 1845), Georg Herwegh the poet thinks how nice it must be to die. The piano part is almost jolly, as if Liszt is mocking the poet’s delusion. The new brightness in Goerne’s voice worked very well indeed. Only in the last verse does reality intrude. The lines go haywire. And Goerne sings sardonically. “Das arme Menschenherz muss stückweis brechen”.

Liszt responds to individual lines in poems, like “Noch leuchten ihre Purpurgluten um jene Höhen, kahl und fern” in Des Tages laute Stimmen schweiugen S337 (1880) to a poem by Ferdinand von Saar. Delicious round sounds for Goerne to circulate his voice around. Liszt is interesting as song composer, too, because his songs suggest how Lieder might have been experienced in the interregnum between Schubert, Schumann and Hugo Wolf. Liszt’s Über alles Gipfeln ist Ruh’ (S306/2, 1859) predicates on repeats of the words “Warte nur” and a nice final coda. Many composers set this poem by Goethe, not many to penetrating effect.

Earlier this week at the Wigmore Hall, Goerne sang Schubert Lieder accompanied by harp (full review here) with the three Gesänge des Harfners. Now he turned to Hugo Wolf’s settings of Goethe’s Wilhelm Meister songs, Harfenspieler I, II and III (1888). Wolf’s approach is more extreme than Schubert’s, veering away from tonality towards psychic disintegration. The piano treads penitentially. “Wer sich der Einsamkeit ergibt”, sang Goerne, bringing out the desolation. “Still und sittsam, will ich stehn” sings the Harper in the second song. One of Goerne’s great strengths is his inwardness. Like the Harper, he doesn’t emote theatrically to entertain an audience, but draws in on himself, physically and emotionally, focusing expression outwards, entirely through his voice. In the third song “Wer nie sein Brot mit Tränen aß” brought the loudest and most forceful singing of the evening, but, as always with Goerne, volume was natural and unforced, deployed intelligently, not simply for show. Magnificent singing, and done with integrity. No populist showmanship here.

Goerne and Haefliger concluded with three Wolf songs from 1896, Keine gleicht von allen Schönen and Sonne der Schlummerlosen, to texts by Byron and Morgenstimmung to a text by Reinick. A glorious ending to a thrilling concert. “Die Engel freundejauchzend fliegen”. Goerne’s enunciation was flawless. The encore was Wolf’s Anakreon’s Grab. Goethe describes the Greek poet’s grave festooned with flowers. “Frühling, Sommer, und Herbst genoß der glückliche Dichter; Vor dem Winter hat ihn endlich der Hügel geschützt. Der Hügel geschützt.” As I left the Wigmore Hall, the thought of that “mound” where art rests eternally cheered my heart.

Anne Ozorio

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