Friday 17 October 2014

Angelika Kirchschlager and Julius Drake

Angelika Kirchschlager - copyright Nikolaus Karlinsky
Angelika Kirchschlager
copyright Nikolaus Karlinsky
Brahms, Schubert, Schumann, Liszt; Angelika Kirchschlager, Julius Drake; Temple Song
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Oct 15 2014
Star rating: 5.0

19th century lieder from four masters in highly involving performances

Austrian mezzo-soprano Angelika Kirchschlager and pianist Julius Drake gave a lieder recital at Middle Temple Hall on Wednesday 15 October 2014 as part of the Temple Song series. Kirchschlager and Drake's programme concentrated on four composers, Brahms, Schubert, Schumann and Liszt with a mixture of well known and lesser known songs. Many of the songs were relatively short, though Kirchschlager also included Schubert's Der Erlkönig and Schumann's Die Löwenbraut.

Kirchschlager and Drake started with the group of Brahms songs. Meine Liebe ist grun set a text by Robert and Clara Schumann's 16 year old son, Felix (already suffering from the TB which would kill him at 25). The song is lyrically impassioned and impulsive, a very suitable response to what is a young man's poem. Kirchschlager gave it a vibrant and free performance, her voice beautifully well modulated and with a superb feel for the words. Throughout the recital she was a vibrantly communicative performer, making the lieder seem like sung poetry, as it should be, but never distorting the music.

Uber die Heide is Brahms's only setting of a Theodor Storm poem. The evocative piano part contributed to the mysterious atmosphere with the performers giving the sense that something was developing. Der Gang zum Liebchen is a strophic setting of a folksong to which Brahms seems to have given a very waltz-like feel in the accompaniment, complementing Kirchschlager's lyrical but intense vocal line. Versunken sets another Felix Schumann poem, again highly impulsive and vividly done. Therese sets a poems by Gottfried Keller in which an older woman addresses a younger admirer. The music here calmer and poised, but still receiving an intent performance with Kirchschlager nicely knowing. Von ewiger Liebe starts out evocative strophic but then as the poet's stress develops, so does the song. Kirchschlager's atmospheric vocal line was complemented with some lovely piano interludes from Drake.

Schubert's An Silvia needs no introduction and here was given with both seriousness and delight, a telling performance which conveyed the performers' enjoyment. Am Bach im Fruhling combined the simple beauty of the vocal line with a dark piano underpinning. Geheimes (setting Goethe) was a characterful delight with lovely pointed words. In Gretchen am Spinnrade (also setting Goethe) Kirchschlager kept the vocal line under tight control, but made the intensity count and conveyed a real sense of the girl's inner live. This was a less frantic performance than some, but very powerful in intent. Lied des Florio was charming but not uncomplicated, with a certain operatic sense about it. Seligkeit was all lyrical charm, again showing the performers' enjoyment. Finally in the first half, Schubert's Der Erlkönig which needs no introduction but this was the first time I have heard it sung by a female voice. Kirchschlager brought a strong sense of narrative to the song, her voice creating a lighter texture but no less dramatic with the various voices given a strong sense of character.

The second half opened with a group of Schumann songs. Liebeslied sets one of the poems that Goethe wrote in collaboration with Marianne von Willemer, and again Kirchschlager and Drake gave it a very real sense of youthful passion. In Die Soldantenbraut (setting Eduard Morike) Kirchschlager was pointed and characterful, with a crisply martial piano accompaniment. The Heine setting Die Lotosblume showed off the sheer beauty of the vocal line and Kichschlager's sense of control. Die Löwenbraut, a long an slightly curious song, received an atmospheric performance, full of intense drama. The final Schumann song was Loreley. A short but delightful song with rippling piano arpeggios and the voice floating over the top

Kirchschlager and Drake finished with a group of Liszt's German songs. Die Kartenlegerin, setting a charming narrative poem by Adelbert von Chamisso, was delightfully projected with a lovely delicate piano accompaniment. With Liszt the piano parts of his songs are often of great interest, though some went through various versions with the composer later simplifying the piano. The Heine setting, Im Rhein, im schonen Strome combined a fluently flowing piano with quite a large scale vocal line. Another Heine setting, Ein Fichtenbauhm steht einsam was quite declamatory at first, but developed into a lovely seductive chromatic melody when the spruce tree dreams of the palm tree in sunning climes. Kirchschlager gave us a strong feeling of the song's subtext. Goethe's Der König in Thule (setting Goethe) had quite a simple melodic line, but both performers projected a keen sense of drama, with the ending becoming quite disturbing. Vergiftet sing meine Lieder was a dramatic Heine setting with the vocal line almost spat out. Die drei Zigeuner (setting Lenau) had a very Hungarian feel to the music, sung with vivid character. Finally, another Goethe setting, Der du von dem Himmel bist combined a lyric melodic line, with an extensive piano part.

The programme was warmly received by the near capacity audience and we were treated to an encore, a further Liszt song Es muss ein Wunderbares sein.

I have to confess that I found the Liszt songs less appealing than the others in the programme, but putting together  these four great 19th century masters gave us a fascinating overview of the 19th century lied, in highly involving performances from Angelika Kirchschlager and Julius Drake.
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