Wednesday 2 December 2015

Inspired by Goethe - Dorottya Láng

Dorottya Láng - picture credit Jonathan Rose
Dorottya Láng
picture credit Jonathan Rose
Schubert, Wolf, Eisler, Liszt, Gounod, Berlioz, Lehar; Dorottya Láng, Helmut Deutsch; Rosenblatt Recitals at the Wigmore Hall
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Dec 01 2015
Star rating: 4.0

A programme inspired by Goethe from this talented young Hungarian mezzo

The young Viennese-trained Hungarian mezzo-soprano Dorottya Láng made her debut at the Wigmore Hall in a recital for Rosenblatt Recitals on Tuesday 1 December 2015 when she was accompanied by Helmut Deutsch. Their programme was themed around the poetry of the great German poet Goethe, with settings by Schubert, Wolf, Eisler and Liszt, plus arias from operas by Gounod and Berlioz based on Goethe's work, and an aria from an operetta by Lehar based on an episode in Goethe's life.

They started with Schubert with a group of eight songs from the years 1815-1822. Hoffnung introduced us to Dorottya Láng's rich, warm tones, beautifully supported and wonderfully even across the range. The song was sung quite straight, rather chorale-like. Auf dem See had fine sensitivity to the words and was appealing but seemed to need a bit more underlying anxiety. Klarchen's Lied was beautifully done if a bit placid, but we got the right amount of vibrant intensity in Rastlose Liebe. Meeress Stille was all contemplative calm, whilst Erster Verlust was plangently expressive, An die Entfernte was beautifully haunting and Versunken showcased Deutsch's brilliant piano playing.

Yet after listening to Dorottya Láng singing the whole group of eight Schubert songs I was aware that though she did all the right things, and shaped the songs beautifully with sensitivity to the words, each seemed to lack just a little intensity. It was as if she hadn't yet found the right spark, but she is young (30 next year) and these performances were more than highly promising.

Dorottya Láng - picture credit Jonathan Rose
Dorottya Láng
picture credit Jonathan Rose
Her group of Wolf settings of Goethe, all Mignon's songs from Wilhelm Meister, showed her singing with that bit more edge, as if the added harmonic complexity of Wolf brought out a little more intensity in her performance. Heiss mich nicht reden was wonderfully plangent, whilst Nur wer die Sehnsucht kennt was all yearning anxiety building to a climax which was wonderfully disjointed and distracted. So lass mich scheinen was again bleakly plangent, singing the words really on the edge of her tone, and Kennst du das Land? was deceptively lyric, but there was a disturbing undertow to her performance especially with Helmut Deutsch's fabulous piano accompaniment.

The three Hanns Eisler settings of Goethe that opened the second half all date from the composer's later years. Von Wolken streifenhaft befangen and Was ich dort gelebt date from the mid 1950's, whilst the composer was living in East Germany, and Der Schatzgraber dates from 1942 and comes from the Hollywood Songbook. Von Wolken streifenhaft befangen sets just a fragment of one of Goethe's poems, and was intriguing and rather haunting. Was ich dort gelebt was lyric, yet certainly not comfortable. The longest song Der Schatzgraberwas complex and affecting, with Lang bringing out the narrative element.

Franz Liszt set songs in a variety of languages, his four Goethe settings all come from the 1840's when he was at his height as a concert pianist touring Europe. He made two settings of Freudvoll und leidvoll (which Schubert set as Klarchen's Lied), the first bringing out the impulsive, intense nature of the words and the second lyrical and quiet but still intense. Uber allen Gipfeln ist Ruh was deceptively simple, hiding an inner complexity whilst Der du von dem Himmel bist combined lyric beauty with complex chromatic harmony and at times got rather disjointed and detached.

Gounod's opera Faust is based, loosely, on part one of Goethe's Faust and was premiered in Paris in 1859. Dorottya Lang sang Siebel's aria Faites-lui mes aveux from the opera, giving a captivating performance with ideally firm, brilliant tones. Next came another aria from an adaptation of Goethe's Faust, the aria D'amour l'ardente flamme from Berlioz's La damnation de Faust. The aria was beautifully done, with a combination of elegance and lovely lyric melancholy, but it felt a little bit too easy and you wanted the climaxes to be more intense, more disturbingly ardent.

Finally, the aria Warum hast du mich wachgekusst, from Lehar's operetta Frederike which premiered in Berlin in 1928. The plot is based on an episode in Goethe's early life. Dorottya Láng and Helmut Deutsch gave the aria a lovely seductive shape and it seemed quite serious and subtler than I usually associate with Lehar and made me want to hear more.

Dorottya Láng has beautifully produced, secure mezzo-soprano voice which she uses with great intelligence and musicality and she was finely partnered by Helmut Deutsch who repeatedly impressed with the flashes of brilliance in the piano. But Lang's programme seemed more calculated to impress, you felt she was being careful rather than expressing emotion directly. Some of the items brought the emotional intensity of the words home, but others seemed a little too easy. Quite what she was capable of was demonstrated in the second of her encores when, singing a Csardas in her native Hungarian she really let rip and for the first time in the evening we got singing of real brilliance and intensity. More like that please, next time!

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