Wednesday 8 January 2014

Matthias Goerne and Leif Ove Andsnes

Matthias Goerne © 2008 Marco Borggreve for harmonia mundi
Matthias Goerne and Leif Ove Andsnes recital: The Wigmore Hall
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Jan 7 2014
Star rating: 5.0
The recital by baritone Matthias Goerne and pianist Leif Ove Andsnes at the Wigmore Hall last night (7 January 2014) was notable for the mesmerising intensity of the performances and the thoroughgoing way which the performers examined their chosen subject, death. The recital interleaved six of Shostakovich's songs from his Michelangelo Suite with ten of Gustav Mahler's lieder taken from the Ruckert Lieder, Des Knaben Wunderhorn and Kindertotenlieder. The entire seriousness of the enterprise was underlined at the end of the recital when, as an encore, the pair performed a long intense Beethoven song.

The results could have been maudlin and self-indulgent, but in the hands of Goerne and Andsnes the songs illuminated each other and Goerne's technically assured but highly interventionist performances made for ravishing listening. Both performers made you hang onto every word and note, no matter how slow the tempi sometimes got. Having heard a number of recent performances of Des Knaben Wunderhorn which brought the folk-influences to the fore, it was a welcome change to hear Goerne returning to a more darkly romantic, highly interventionist style of performance. He sang with a consistently fine sense of line and legato, but made every detail count, with highly wrought lines.

Part of the interest of the performance was the contrast between the two performers, with Andsnes providing a crisply articulated and finely accented piano part. Both the Mahler and the Shostakovich songs exist in orchestral versions and Andsnes was gifted at bringing out and almost orchestral range of colours in the piano parts.

The two started with Ich atmet' einen linden Duft from Mahler's Ruckert Lieder which Goerne and Andsnes performed as if they had all the time in the world, though it never felt slow. There was a magical richness to Goerne's phrasing contrasting with the pellucid piano accompaniment. Utro (Morning) was the first of the songs from Shostakovich's Michelangelo Suite. Like the preceding Mahler song its subject was the anticipation of love. Goerne combined beauty of tone with a sense that the moment was pregnant with possibility. Sung in a hushed manner, he brought a hushed wondering quality to it complemented by Andsnes's subtle understated piano playing.

Wo die schonen Trompeten blasen (Where the splendid trumpets sound) from Mahler's Des Knaben Wunderhorn followed, and Goerne looked haunted during the worderful piano introduction, even before he started singing. Goerne gave the song an otherworldly, distracted quality, spinning out the phrases in a highly characterful way. Shostakovich's Razluka (Separation) was rather recitative like, but Goerne displayed a fine control of the vocal line, and his hushed intensity made you hang onto every word.

The first half finished with a group of Mahler songs. Es sungen drei Engel einem sussen Gesang (Three angels were singing a sweet song) from Des Knaben Wunderhorn combined a busy characterful piano with great story-telling from Goerne to create a mini-drama. Das irdische Leben (Life on earth) from Des Knaben Wunderhorn was more complex, with Goerne finely articulating the dialogue between the two characters to make a vividly intense little drama.  In Nun seh'ich wohl, warum so dunkle Flammen (No I see clearly) from Kindertotenlieder Goerne dug really deep in the song's meaning, being very free with the tempo but always with a sense of phrasing and line.  For Wenn dein Mutterlein (When your dear Mother) from Kindertotenlieder, the start was very folk-like. But Goerne and Andsnes moved the song into far darker territory, bringing out the deep pain in intense outbursts. The result was haunting and full of unbearable heartbreak. The first half finished with a return to Des Knaben Wunderhorn for Urlicht (Primortial light) sung with slow deep intensity and hauntingly beautiful tone.

Part two started with Shostakovich's Night setting a Michelangelo poem which meditates on one of his sculptures, 'as though dead, but as a solace to the world'. Andsnes' austere piano line was contrasted with the intense, inward vocal line. The second verse becoming powerful, richly dark and subtly disturbing. Mahler's Ich bein der Welt abhanden gekommon (I am lost to the world) from Ruckert Lieder was notable for the many colours which Andsnes brought into the piano introduction. Goerne was intense but inward, ending the song on a mesmerising thread.

Then followed a pair of Shostakovich songs. Immortality was a song which combined a strangely perky, rather sardonic piano part with a more lyrical, rather deeply powerful vocal line, finishing with a curious piano postlude. This was Shostakovich at his most darkly sardonic. Dante considered the Renaissance poet in a song which was darkly contemplative, with moments of great power. Goerne and Andsnes made with rather bleak and disturbing.

Mahler's Revelge (Reville) from Des Knaben Wunderhorn also had a brilliant but sardonic edge to it. In its own way the song was as bleak and disturbing as the Shostakovich, despite the rather up-beat tune. Both Goerne and Andsnes brought a gradual increase in the sense of anger as the song progressed.

The final Shostakovich song, Death, had an austere fugal piano part which contrasted with the dark inwardness of the Goerne's vocal line. They made the song eerie and disturbingly unsettled. Finally Der Tambourg'sell (The Drummer Boy) from Mahler's Des Knaben Wunderhorn in which Goerne was darkly bitter, but rising to great beauty in the last verse and with Andsnes contributing fabulously vivid piano interludes. Moving, but disturbing and profound.

This was a profound and intense recital, exploring the songs to their very limit. Certainly by the end of the recital I did wonder whether a leavening of sardonic wit from Shostakovich or Mahler might have been beneficial. instead Goerne and Andsnes took us on a dark and disturbing journey. And it was certainly daring to give us the extended and equally intense Beethoven song as an encore.

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