Monday 24 October 2016

A day at the Oxford Lieder Festival: lunch with Schubert, tea with Mendelssohn and Gade

Daniel Heide and Andrè Schuen at Oxford Lieder Festival - photo Tom Herring
Daniel Heide and Andrè Schuen at Oxford Lieder Festival - photo Tom Herring
Schubert, Mendelssohn, Gade; Andrè Schuen, Daniel Heide, Phoenix Piano Trio; Oxford Lieder Festival
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Oct 21 2016
Star rating: 4.5

A vividly engaging baritone, and a lyrically passionate piano trio at the Oxford Lieder Festival

My day at the Oxford Lieder Festival on Friday 21 October 2016, combined the Bach Revived lectures (see my article) and evening recital from Juliane Banse (see my review) with a lunchtime recital from the baritone Andrè Schuen and pianist Daniel Heide, and a rush-hour recital from the Phoenix Piano Trio (Jonathan Stone, Christian Elliott and Sholto Kynoch), both at the Holywell Music Room. Shuen and Heide's recital took a break from the festival's theme of Schumann songs and gave us a programme of Schubert songs, whilst the Phoenix Piano Trio performed music by Schumann's friends, Mendelssohn's Piano Trio no. 2 in C minor, Op.66 and Niels Gade's Novelletten, Op.29.

Andrè Schuen is a young baritone from the Südtirol (he is tri-lingual in Ladin, Italian and German) and he was accompanied by his regular accompanist Daniel Heide. They performed a sequence of Schubert songs, taking intertwining themes of love, wandering and the heavens. They opened with Auf der Brück, Schuen singing from memory and we could immediately appreciate his vividly vibrant baritone, allied to a superb command of the words. His was a virile account of Auf der Brück, with a strong sense of the words in the music (something that repeatedly struck me during the recital). He is quite a contained performer, but still gave the impression of an effortless sense of communication whatever the sense of the song.

Der Wanderer an den Mond started with the sound of the wanderer tramping evoked in the piano, and Schuen's approach to the song was considered and poetic, and in the final verse there was lovely sheen to his voice. After an atmospheric piano introduction, Nachstück was sung with quiet veiled tone, Schuen displaying fine control. At the end, voice and piano combined to create a little bit of magic. Fahrt zum Hades was darkly serious with vivid words, and a sense of drama culminating in the almost recitative-like final verse

In Der Musensohn Schuen brought out the vivid sense of the words, rather than giving us a purely lyrical line. The result was a joyful yet sober performance, full of character. Der Fischers Liebesglück was quiet, intense and considered, with a lovely sense of line as well as words. By now we were able to appreciate Schuen's sophisticated armoury of responses to the combination of text and music. Schuen and Heide combined to create a real sense of atmosphere in a riveting performance. Die Sterne opened with Heide's evocative piano, with Schuen's entry continuing the mood, in a performance which was lyrical but with a sense of impetus. Der Schiffer made a finely virile conclusion to the first group of songs.

An den Mond was given in a beautifully crafted performance, whilst Wanderers Nachtlied II was performed with quiet intensity, creating a sense of atmosphere. Abendstern, sung with a nicely lyrical line, was very affecting with the final lines of each verse sung with lovely floated top notes. Der Wanderer was sung with deep seriousness, with the two different characters well delineated. Lied eines Schiffers an die Dioskuren combined Heide's richly resonant piano with Shuen's serious, well-filled line. In Im Frühling the lyric beauty of Schuen's performance brought out the lovely melody, but there were words too. The final song, Willkommen und Abschied was fast and lively, with vivid words. The audience was rightly enthusiastic and we were rewarded with an encore, Schubert's Im Abendrot.

Schuen is certainly a singer to watch, he has the remarkable combination of youth, communicativeness, beauty of voice and sensitivity to the words and music. Throughout he was finely supported and partnered by Daniel Heide's piano.

Phoenix Piano Trio (Sholto Kynoch, Jonathan Stone, Christian Elliott) at Oxford Lieder Festival - photo Tom Herring
Phoenix Piano Trio (Sholto Kynoch, Jonathan Stone, Christian Elliott) at Oxford Lieder Festival - photo Tom Herring
We returned to the Holywell Music Room at 5.30pm, where Oxford Lieder Festival's artistic director, Sholto Kynoch was joined by the other members of the Phoenix Piano Trio, Jonathan Stone (violin) and Christian Elliott (cello) to perform Mendelssohn's Piano Trio No. 2 in C minor, Op.66 and Niels Gade's Noveletten Op.29.

The Danish composer Niels Gade spent much of the 1840s in Leipzig, working at the Conservatory and becoming friends with both Mendelssohn and Schumann. His Noveletten for piano trio dates from 1853 after Gade had returned to Denmark, and it is in five contrasting movements. Allegro scherzando was lively, dramatic and very scherzando with attractively varied textures formed from three independent lines. Andante con moto was graceful and fluid, with lovely intertwining lines. Moderato was characterful and full of interesting rhythms, with a delicate middle section. Larghetto con moto was rather like a song without words, again with a lovely fluidity to the scoring, and the final Allegro was full of charm and impetuous drama.

Mendelssohn's Piano Trio No. 2 in C minor was written in 1845. His first numbered piano trio, written in 1839, had significant revisions made at the urging of Mendelssohn's friend Ferdinand Hiller, making the piano part less old fashioned (and more difficult). The piano writing in the second trio is similarly virtuoso.

Allegro energico e fuoco was fast, but quiet and very atmospheric, with very mobile dynamics and some wonderful textures. The sense of the dynamism of the textures and the vivid dynamics was something which seemed to characterise all the movements in the piece. Neither string player had a really fat sound, so they combined intensity with elegance, and Kynoch's piano was finely virtuoso without ever turning the work into a piano concerto. Andante espressivo started out as a song without words, with the piano eventually being joined by the strings to develop the texture with some lovely singing lines. Scherzo: Molto allegro quasi presto was full of vivid scurrying, the fairies were very much back, with the three players giving us some brilliant playing, and excitement too. Finale: Allegro appassionato was lyrically passionate, again with a very mobile texture with a lovely give and take between the players. And then the music dissolved into a chorale, then Mendelssohn combines the two into something lyrically passionate.

A Day at the Oxford Lieder Festival: Bach Revived
A Day at the Oxford Lieder Festival: Juliane Banse and Marcelo Amaral in Mendelssohn, Brahms and Schumann

Elsewhere on this blog:

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