Thursday 8 February 2018

A Heine Song Book - Robin Tritschler and Christopher Glynn

Robin Tritschler (Photo Garreth Wong)
Robin Tritschler (Photo Garreth Wong)
A Heine Songbook - Schumann Dichterliebe; Robin Tritschler, Christopher Glynn
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Feb 7 2018 Star rating: 4.5
A tour-de-force of Heine settings, with 36 songs by 15 composers

What do you programme with Schumann's Dichterliebe? Different performers have different ideas, but tenor Robin Tritschler and pianist Christopher Glynn came up with a fascinating programme for their recital at the Wigmore Hall on Wednesday 7 February 2018 when under the title A Heine Songbook, for the first half the recital they presented us with a selection of 19 Heine settings by a diverse group of composers, just some of the hundreds of songs based on Heine's poems (there are over 400 different settings of 'Du bist wie eine Blume'). So we heard songs by Giacomo Meyerbeer, Johannes Brahms, Clara Schumann, Carl Loewe, Felix Mendelssohn, Adolf Jensen, Franz Liszt, Anton Bruckner, Camille Saint-Saens, Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov, Edvard Grieg, Sergey Rachmaninov, Frank Bridge and Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky.

First of all Robin Tritschler and Christopher Glynn gave us a baker's dozen of songs in German by German-speaking composers, performing them without a break and with Tritschler impressively singing everything from memory. After a short break we had a further six songs by non-German composers mainly in translation (Grieg's setting was in German), and then Schumann's Dichterliebe followed after the interval.

Heinrich Heine by Moritz Daniel Oppenheim
Heinrich Heine by Moritz Daniel Oppenheim
We started with Meyerbeer, an engaging account of a charming setting of Komm du schönes Fischermädchen which had hints of Meyerbeer's operatic tendency. Brahms' Sommerabend Op.85 No.1 was dark and hushed with a sense of time suspended, whilst Clara Schumann's Sie liebten sich beide Op.13 No.2 was full of lyrical melancholy with Tritschler bringing out the intensity of the words. In each song, you were conscious of Tritschler really communicating the text, and each song had its own sense of a story to be told.

Carl Loewe's Der Asra Op.133 was a tale full of character which both pianist and singer clearly delighted in. Felix Mendelssohn's Reiselied Op.34 No.6 was fast, impulsive and vividly descriptive, capturing you in a whirl of energy.

We returned to Brahms for the hauntingly lovely Meerfahrt Op.96 No.4, but Brahms adds a complex piano accompaniment which makes the barcarolle into something darker and more complex. I have to confess that Adolf Jensen (1837-1879) was a name that was new to me. His Lehn deine Wang' an meine Wang' Op.1 No.1 was simple but lovely, and in Tritschler's performance became rather touching. Felix Mendelssohn's Auf Flügeln des Gesanges Op. 34 No. 2 is rather better known but Tritschler and Glynn gave us a performance which was anything but hackneyed, with Tritschler's fine-grained tone creating a sense of lyrical beauty, yet still with a feeling of conveying a real story. It is fascinating how Mendelssohn's song, like many of the others, takes the words at face value and few composers seemed to revel in the bitter sense of irony which runs through Heine's poetry.

Franz Liszt's Anfangs wollt' ich fast verzagen S311 was a short, but remarkable song, an unevenness in both piano and vocal line conveying the singers emotion, developing into something powerfully intense. In Brahms' Mondenschein Op.85 No.2, initial intensity gives way to moon-lit beauty of a transcendent nature, whilst his Es Schauen die Blumen Op.96 No.3 was short and impulsive, yet full of wistful passion.

Christopher Glynn (Photo Joanna Bergin)
Christopher Glynn (Photo Joanna Bergin)

Anton Bruckner is not known for his song writing. His setting of Frühlingslied WAB68 dates from 1851 when he was 27, a rather lovely, rather touching song and not at all like the Bruckner that we know from the symphonies, masses and motets. Felix Mendelssohn's Neue Liebe Op.19a No.4 is a song which does get included in recitals. Tritschler and Glynn made it come alive with some vivid story telling.

Camille Saint-Saens Claire de lune sets a text by Catulle Mendes after a Heine poem. Sung with lovely tone, it started out quietly contained before rising to passion in the penultimate verse. Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov's The pine and the palm Op.3 No.1 sets a poem by Mikhail Lermontov after a Heine poem. It is a very striking piece, the pine in the first verse is dark and strong, then in the second verse Rimsky-Korsakov brings in the exoticism as the pine dreams of the palm. But at the end the opening music returns in a piano coda.

Grieg's Eingehüllt in graue Wolken Op. 2 No. 2 was vividly robust, and wonderfully evocative of the wild weather which the poem describes. Sergey Rachmaninov's Child! you are as fair as a flower Op. 8 No.2 sets a poem by Aleksey Pleshcheyev after Heine. It is a richly lyrical piece, and Tritschler made it rather touching (though I did wonder about the sentiments of the poem, with the older man and the innocent young girl). Frank Bridge set Emma Lazarus' translation of Heine for All things that we clasp, a short but intense piece which was not at all the sort of conventionally comfortable English song we might expect. And finally, Tchaikovsky's Why? Op.6 No. 8 which sets a Lev Mey poem after Heine, and Tritschler and Glynn gave us a remarkable outpouring of lyrical passion.

Robert Schumann's setting of Dichterliebe dates from his amazing year of song, 1840. Schumann completed the setting some three months before he finally was able to marry his beloved Clara, and the cycle suggests not the culmination of their love but a representation of Robert's agony until they were married. Richard Stokes programme note pointed out that a careful reading of Heine's poems indicates that none of them is positive, we never really learn whether the young man's love is requited or not, probably not as the young lady never seems to say.

Robin Tritschler gave us a wonderful picture of self deception, as the young man obsessed over details only for things finally to crumble. Sung with beautiful tone and very contained intensity, Im wunderschönen monat Mai grew in intensity, yet with the unresolved postlude Schumann leaves us wondering. Schumann might not quite 'do' irony in these songs, but with the postludes he makes us question what the young man is really thinking. Aus meinen Tränen spriessen was lyrical but with an underlying melancholy, and by the delightful Die Rose, di Lilie, die Taube we realise that this is a rather intense young man, as the song displays his very contained yet intense joy.

Wenn ich in deine Augen seh' was touching, whilst in Ich will meine Seele tauchen his delight in his love is palpable, but again the postlude was less sure. Im Rhein, im heiligen Strome started with a wonderfully robust opening but then gradually unwound as the young man loses certainty. The bleak quiet of the opening of Ich grolle nicht developed into real bitterness as the song developed. Thoug Und wüssten's die Blumen was notable for its lyrical beauty, melancholy kept breaking through until the bitter last line, reinforced by a powerful postlude.

Das ist ein Flöten und Geigen was surprisingly bleak with the jollity in the piano providing an ironic contrast. Hör' ich das Liedchen klingen was contained and intense, a mood which continued in the postlude whilst Ein Jüngling liebt ein Mädchen was on the surface a delightful example of story-telling, but the bitterness underneath showed more and more. Christopher Glynn's magical web of piano supported the thread of Tritschler's voice in Am leuchtenden Sommermorgen whilst Ich hab' im Traum geweinet was bleak with bleached tone until the very intense end.

Allnächtlich im Traume felt as if the poet was telling a story, trying to make sense of the narrative, whilst the vivid description in Aus alten Märchen felt as if he was carried away with delight, until the last two verses. In the final song, the strong and powerful performance evaporated at the bleak final two lines, but then the reminiscences of the opening material return in consolatory manner in the postlude.

Any performance of Dichterliebe is very much a partnership, Schumann gives the piano as much power as the singer in the depiction of the protagonists state of mind. Robin Tritschler and Christopher Glynn gave us a beautifully thought out and rivetingly engaging account, an emotional narrative that drew us in.

We were treated to an encore, yet one more Heine setting, Du bist wie eine Blume this time in Schumann's setting.

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