Thursday 25 April 2019

Schumann's Myrthen at Wigmore Hall with Sarah Connolly, Robin Tritschler, Anna Huntley and Malcolm Martineau

Clara & Robert Schumann,  Daguerreotype of 1850.
Clara & Robert Schumann,  Daguerreotype of 1850.
Robert Schumann Myrthen, duets; Sarah Connolly, Robin Tritschler, Anna Huntley, Malcolm Martineau; Wigmore Hall Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 24 April 2019 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
Not quite a rarity perhaps, but a very welcome performance of Robert Schumann's wedding present to his wife, sung by three singers thus emphasising the diversity of the songs.

Whilst not a complete rarity, performances of Robert Schumann's song cycle Myrthen are perhaps not as common as some of his other cycles, the work's length and the sheer diversity of the song perhaps mitigates against it. The cycle was a wedding present to Robert's wife Clara, but it isn't so much a declaration of love as a reflection of the multiple emotions which must have affected them during the final, turbulent year of their long engagement.

Commonly shared by a male and a female singer, at the Wigmore Hall on 24 April 2019 as part of the hall's Robert Schumann Song Series devised by Malcolm Martineau, Myrthen was performed by mezzo-soprano Sarah Connolly, mezzo-soprano Anna Huntley, tenor Robin Tritschler and pianist Malcolm Martineau, along with a selection of Schumann's duets. Myrthen was split in two, beginning and ending the recital, with the duets sung by Anna Huntley and Robin Tritschler in the middle.

Very roughly, Anna Huntley sang the songs of young female love and other young women, Robin Tritschler sang the more masculine songs with Sarah Connolly taking the ones with more general feeling, often looking back on remembered emotion. (Though this is very subjective). It worked well, but left Connolly rather underused during the second half.

Robin Tritschler opened things with 'Widmung', not a big romantic statement but singing it as if he meant it, then 'Freisinn' with a striking combination of sprung rhythms and serious demeanor. As ever, Tritschler brought out the narrative, story telling element of the songs, making a nice contrast between the two Goethe cup-bearer settings, and giving some sort of sense to the rather strange 'Talismane'. 'Aus dem hebraischen Gesangen', which opened the second half of the cycle, had a magical intensity to it and then there was the sense of quiet mischief in the first 'Venetianisches Lied', contrasting with the swagger of 'Hauptmans Weib'. 'Du bist wie eine Blume' was practically perfect, concentrated and controlled with beautiful phrasing, and he finished the cycle with a quietly concentrated 'Zum Schluss', with just the evocative postlude to finish.

Sarah Connolly began her contribution with a thoughtful account of 'Der Nussbaum' as if remembering an earlier love, and she brought a lovely storytelling character to 'Jemand'. 'Die Lotosblume' was beautifully concentrated, and she finished part one with lovely inward account of 'Hochlandisches Wiegenlied'. Her final contribution, 'Aus dem 'Ostlichen Rosen'', was light, elegant and strongly shaped.

Anna Huntley brought and engaging freshness to 'Lied der Suleike' combined with a lovely mellow tone, 'Der Hochlander-Witwe' was impulsively dramatic as she steadily pushed the drama forward, whilst the two 'Lied der Braut' were thoughtful, concentrated and beautifully shaped. For 'Rathsel' she managed to combine the song's plentiful words with a lovely sly character, whereas 'Weit, weit' had an elegant melancholy to it, as was the beautifully elegant 'Niemand'

Throughout the cycle Malcolm Martineau partnered the singers with poise, creating such a wide variety of moods and allowing Schumann's postludes to really tell.

It was a delight to hear four of Schumann's duets, sung by Anna Huntley and Robin Tritschler. 'Er und Sie' was very definitely in the lyrical, romantic vein but delightful nonetheless, whilst 'Liebhabers Stanchen' was quite dramatic with a lovely comic twist at the end. 'Unterm Fenster' was delightfully characterful, but 'In der Nacht' was in striking contrast with a serious Bachian piano accompaniment and two intertwining voices. Throughout the duets, whether comic or serious, Huntley and Tritschler balance and blended their voices beautifully, sparking off each other in the more comic bits.

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