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Mauro Peter [Photo © Franziska Schrödinger]
05 Jun 2015

Mauro Peter at Wigmore Hall

2012 was a good year for Swiss tenor Mauro Peter. He participated at the Young Singers Project of the Salzburg Festival under the baton of Ivor Bolton, and won 1st Prize and the Audience Prize at the Peter Schumann Competition in Zwickau.

Mauro Peter at Wigmore Hall

A review by Claire Seymour

Above: Mauro Peter [Photo © Franziska Schrödinger]


In May of that year, he made his lieder debut at the Schubertiade in Hohenems, performing Die Schöne Müllerin with Helmut Deutsch; September saw him come to international prominence when he performed the same song cycle at the Schubertiade in Schwarzenberg.

Since then, Peter has been forging a successful international career. He made his debut, with Deutsch, at the Wigmore Hall in January 2014 and now, just as the Wigmore Live CD recording of that performance of Die Schöne Müllerin is released, the young tenor has returned to the Hall, with pianist James Baillieu, to perform songs by Beethoven, Schumann, Brahms and Wolf.

Peter has a flawless technique and a suavely appealing voice. The tone is bright and clear, the line wonderfully mellifluous, the intonation true and the phrasing sensitive. There was not the merest blemish during the whole evening. His manner on the platform was comfortable and courteous; indeed, everything about Peter’s performance was stylish and gracious. But, such qualities, while beguiling the listener’s ear, do not necessary make for a truly engaging lieder performance, and during the evening — most particularly in the first half of the recital — I felt that lyric beauty was often ‘standing in’ for musical probing and expressive nuance.

The same could not be said of Peter’s accompanist. James Baillieu, who himself won the Accompanist’s Prize at the Hall’s own International Song Competition in 2009, managed to be both restrained and unfailingly sensitive to his soloist and endless inventive with the musical details, all of which were communicated with clarity and elegance.

The duo began with Beethoven’s An die ferne Geliebte and made a coherent narrative of the sequence of songs. Peter’s long-phrased evenness and gentle tone was just right for the introductory song, ‘Auf dem Hügel sitz ich’ (I sit on the hill), in which the poet-narrator gazes mistily into the distant meadows dreaming of his lost love. Baillieu judged the final stringendo just right, conveying the protagonist’s optimism and joy. The subsequent ‘Wo die Berge so blau’ was also appropriately light and dreamy, and moved straight into ‘Leichte Segler in den Höhen’ (Light clouds sailing on high), in which Baillieu’s ability to paint visual and aural scenes was exemplified by the clearly defined, dancing triplets of the introduction — the reflection of the clouds in the rippling brook. Peter used the text well to create the springy buoyancy of these wisps as they are ruffled by the wind in ‘Diese Wolken in den Höhen’ (These clouds on high), while the concluding stanza of ‘Es kehret der Maien’ (May returns) was tenderly doleful: ‘Wenn alles, was leibet/ Der Frühling vereint’/ Nur unserer Liene/ Kein Frühling erscheint, Und Tränen sind all ihr Gewinnen.’ (When spring unites all lovers, our love alone knows no spring, and tears are its only gain.) The final song, ‘Numm sie hin den, diese Leider’ (Accept, then, these songs), injected greater emotional depth and tension, as the tempo urged forward, then ebbed. Peter found darker colours and a weightier, open sound as he impressed his songs upon the ‘beloved’, before the piano’s fading descent brought us back to the stillness of the opening.

Six songs from Schumann’s Myrthen followed, the best of which was ‘Der Nußbaum’ (The walnut tree) in which, above Baillieu’s even arcing semiquavers, Peter employed a beautiful, floating head voice to convey the delicacy of the tree’s blossoms, which gracefully bend their heads towards each other as if to kiss and caress. In a soft whisper he told of the blossom’s song, while Baillieu emphasised the harmonic nuances and subtle rubato to suggest the elusiveness of the maiden’s dreams which the melody relates. There was more variety of vocal hues than in the Beethoven cycle: ‘Wildmung’ (Dedication) had a firmer insistence, while the first of the ‘Lieder aus dem Schenkenbuch im Divan’ (Songs from the Book of the Cupbearer) was colourful and droll, closing with a witty piano postlude which recalled the chirpy confidence of the dotted rhythms of ‘Freisinn’ (Free spirit). The two ‘Venetianische Lieder’ (Venetian Songs) were disappointing, however, for while the piano’s harmonies, rhythms and textures twisted suggestively, the vocal line lacked the required air of expectancy and possibility. Schumann’s main aim when he published Myrthen in 1840 was to express the gamut and extremity of emotions that he felt for his new wife and to embody the richness of their life together which lay ahead, and I did not feel that Peter was successful in capturing the diversity and fullness evoked by these songs.

Musical mellifluousness similarly came before intensity of feeling and dramatic strength in the Brahms’ lieder which followed the interval. And while Peter enunciated the German text clearly, there was an occasional tendency to swallow syllables and consonants, sacrificing meticulousness of diction for the beauty of the melodic line. Generally I’d have liked Peter to have made much more of the text. In ‘Versunken’ (Drowned), for example, in which Brahms set words by Felix Schumann, the last son of Robert and Clara, there is passion and rapture in the poet-speaker’s account of his descent to the dark depths and transfiguration in the final stanza as the waves engulf him, as ‘Es schimmert in Regenbogen/ Die Welt von ferne herein’. But, while the grace and clarity of Baillieu’s rippling arpeggios suggested the sparkling illumination of the deep and the piano’s dissonances seemed to foreshadow tragedy, the vocal line was less theatrical and stirring.

The shapely arches and reflective mood of ‘Wie Melodien zieht es mir’ (Thoughts, like melodies), the text of which (by Klaus Groth) discusses the beauty of words and how they can guide our thoughts, suited Peter better, though. And, in ‘Feldeinsamkeit’ (Alone in fields), he found greater mystery, the final stanza sinking in register to calm slumberous depths: ‘Mir ist, als ob ich längst gestorben bin,/ Und ziehe selig mit durch ew’ge Räume.’ (I feel as if I have long been dead, drifting happily with them through eternal space.)

A selection from Wolf’s Mörike Lieder concluded the recital and at last there was drama and a conscious attempt to convey conflict, resolution and change, as well as to capture single moods. ‘Lied eines Verliebten’ (A lover’s song) was a strong start to the sequence: the dynamic contrasts of the piano introduction, with its tense off-beat right-hand semiquavers established a restless mood, and the melodic curves of the vocal line, while characteristically smooth and even, were more diversely and piquantly coloured. The frustration and self-disgust caused by the poet-speaker’s obsession with ‘the unruly girl’ was brilliantly captured in the piano’s final stabbing sforzando chord. In ‘Der Knabe und das Immlein’ (The boy and the bumble bee) there was an intriguing contrast between the sparkling clarity of the piano accompaniment, with its buzzing trills and its delicate counter-melodies, and the almost ethereal abstraction of the vocal line, as Peter perfectly communicated the hesitancy and timidity, interrupted by moments of fierce elation, of first love. In ‘An die Geliebte’ (To the beloved), the tenor’s head voice was used most expressively, first conveying the deep calm of the poet-speaker as he gazes at his angelic beloved, then the weightlessness he feels as he plunges through emotions chasms. The illustrative gestures of the piano accompaniment in ‘Der Tambour’ (The drummer-boy) brought both humour and pathos as Baillieu tapped out the drum’s sleepy beat above tremulous rolls in the bass, the exaggerated tightness of the rhythms mocking the young soldier boy’s homesick fantasies. The latter are sharpened by his sighting of the moon which, though it shines ‘in French’, still reminds him of his loved one, and here Peter delicately floated the phrase, ‘Da scheint der Mond in mein Gezelt’ to evoke the pathos of the boy’s reflections.

It seems to be tempting fate to write about the final song, ‘Abschied’ (Goodbye), which depicts a critic being kicked down the stairs to the strains of a drunken Viennese waltz, but here I felt that the markedly different approaches of the two performers was sharply foregrounded. Peter struggled to summon the requisite theatricality for the opening recitative-like section while Baillieu entered fully into the spirit of the satire romping through the postlude with flair and wit. That’s not to suggest that the duo were ‘at odds’ during the performance. Certainly the musical accomplishments were many and considerable, and Baillieu was an unwaveringly sensitive support for the tenor. Peter has all the technical weapons in his arsenal; now he needs to reflect on how he wants to use them.

Claire Seymour

Artists and programme:

Mauro Peter, tenor; James Baillieu, piano. Wigmore Hall, London, Thursday 4th June 2015.

Ludwig van Beethoven: An die ferne Geliebte Op.98; Robert Schumann Myrthen Op. 25 (‘Widmung’, ‘Freisinn’, ‘Der Nußbaum’, ‘Lieder aus dem Schenkenbuch im Divan I and II’, ‘Zwei Venetianische Lieder I and II’, ‘Du bist wie eine Blume ‘; Johannes Brahms ‘Meerfahrt’ Op.96 No.4, ‘Nachtigall’ Op.97 No.1 , ‘Versunken’ Op.86 No.5 , ‘Wie Melodien zieht es mir’ Op.105 No.1, ‘Feldeinsamkeit’ Op.86 No.2, ‘Geheimnis’ Op.71 No.3; Hugo Wolf Mörike Lieder (‘Lied eines Verliebten’, ‘Der Knabe und das Immlein’ ‘An die Geliebte’, ‘Nimmersatte Liebe’, ‘Der Tambour’, ‘Abschied’).

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