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31 Oct 2015

Christoph Prégardien, Schubert, Wigmore Hall London

Another highlight of the Wigmore Hall complete Schubert Song series - Christoph Prégardien and Christoph Schnackertz. The core Wigmore Hall Lieder audience were out in force. These days, though, there are young people among the regulars : a sign that appreciation of Lieder excellence is most certainly alive and well at the Wigmore Hall. .

Christoph Prégardien, Christoph Schnackertz, Schubert, Wigmore Hasll, London 29th October 2015

A review by Anne Ozorio

Above : Christoph Prégardien, by Marco Borggrave


Prégardien is a perennial favourite, who has been singing at the Wigmore Hall for at least 25 years. Prégardien's programmes are thought-provoking. His choice focused on Schubert's settings of Schiller and Mayrhofer, which are Prégardien specialities, but this time he included songs that are less well known, to stimulate the audience's appreciation of the composers craft.

Schubert set 44 songs to texts by Schiller, of which three were settings of Der Jüngling am Bache. His first, D 30, dates from as early as 1812. Prégardian sang the version D192 from 1815. The brooks still runs cheerfully in the piano part, but now the more contemplative approach emphasizes Schiller's image of flowers crushed in fast-flowing waters, an allusion to impermanence and to unfulfilment. The agile lucidity of Prégardien's timbre captures much of the whimsy of the first version, though the later song is more emotionally rewarding. Later in this Wigmore Hall series, no doubt we'll hear the third version, D 638 (1819), even more poignant.

For a moment, though, we remained in fanciful mode, with Schubert's settings of Ludwig Hölty (1748-1776). Der Liebende D207 1815 recaptures the sprightly lyricism of the first version of Der Jüngling am Bache. "Beglückt, beglückt, Wer dich erblickt", bright, sharp consonants, which Prégardien articulated so they sparkled. "Wem süsser Blick, und Wink und Nick Zum sussern Kusse winket". Utterly delicious. Der Traum D218 1815 feels almost like folksong with its paired phrases suggesting the fluttering of a bird : "Mir träumt, ich war ein Vögelein". Prégardien captured the lilting charm in the song with delicate but deft clarity. The sentiments of Die Laube D214, 1815, is decidedly period. "Schauer wird durch meine Nerven haben" and "Wann ich auf der Bahn der Tugend wanke". But Pregardien's respect for the song as song gives it dignity.

Thus were we prepared for more Schiller. Hoffnung D251 1815 is relatively straightforward compared with D 637, a darker and more beautidul setting of the same poem,. but it made a good transition to the Schiller ballad Ritter Togenberg D397 1816. Again, the subject is rather "of its time". a knight, rejected by a maiden, goes on the Crusades where he "Schreckt den Muselmann". When he returns, the girl has become a nun. So the knight spends the rest of his life in a hut near the convent until the girl dies and becomes an angel. Strophic ballads aren't that easy to carry off but they are one of Prégardien's great strengths. He sang with direct, unfussy commitment, so the tale felt totally plausible. Context aside, emotions are universal.

In his programme notes, Richard Stokes quotes Albert Einstein on Die Liebesgötter D 446 1816, to a poem by Johann Peter Uz, as "Anacreontic doggerel". "Cypris meiner Phyllis gleich, sass von Grazien umgeben....mich berauschten Cyperns Reben". Cypris's grapes have made the poet drunk. As a poem this is a howler. The poet sees nymphs fleeing "mit leichtem Fuss allen Zwang betränkter Kettern flatteren von Fuss zu Fuss und von Blonden und Brünetten". Yer Prégardien makes the song feel right, though he smiled benevolently when singing the florid phrases. If we can take 18th century paintings of Classical Antiquity, we can perhaps take .Uz (1730-1796) on his own terms. In any case, the poem is more risqué than it seems since nymphs hang out with satyrs, and wine frees inhibitions.

Prégardien and Schnackertz then paired Der Hirt D 490 1816 and Bei dem Grabe meines Vater D496 1816. Both deal with loss. In the first, the poet (Mayerhofer) looks at the tower where his beloved lives now that she's married. In the second, to a poem by Matthias Claudius, the poet mourns his father in conventionally dutiful terms. Both settings are rather dispassionate, and don't draw from Schubert his finest moments, but we need to hear them to appreciate Schubert's work as a whole. That's the point of a complete song series. In that context, Schubert's songs to Mayrhofer shone all the more brightly.

Five more Schubert settings of Mayrhofer followed : Der Alpenjäger, D524 1817, Nach einem Gewitter D561 1817, Tröst D671 1819, Nachstück D D672 19, Nachtviolen D752 1822 and Alfölsung D 807 1824, all of which Prégardien has performed many times in the past and still does with characteristic grace and intelligence.

Anne Ozorio

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