S&H Recital review

:Matthias Goerne/Alfred Brendel Théàtre du Châtelet, Paris, June 5, 2001 (FC)

This concert, a repeat of one a week earlier in the Queen Elizabeth Hall in London, is the first of a series planned by Alfred Brendel as part of his 70th birthday celebrations. He is teamed here with one of the most interesting and talented of the young vocal artists, 33-year old baritone Matthias Goerne, a student of Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and Elizabeth Schwarzkopf, and already possessing an impressive list of recordings and a good deal of critical notice.

The special interest of this concert is that it breaks the mold of the traditional lieder recital format. It is usual to have a pianist solidly in the background while the soloist, with academic style and somewhat preciously, delivers a set of songs. It is exceedingly rare that such an acclaimed and accomplished an artist as Brendel can be found playing the piano in this setting. It is also rare that the vocalist will sing the text so expressively and with such dynamic range and impact.

This association, which goes back four years, is truly a collaboration of great artists, both of whom have an equal role in these two masterpieces of the art of song, Beethoven's "An die ferne Geliebte," Op. 98 and Franz Schubert's "Schwannengesang," D 957. It was in the Beethoven that you became aware of this new association, as both pianist and singer took palpable pleasure in illuminating the overarching passion in the poems and music almost as a single entity.

The freedom of dynamics was more in evidence during the Schubert cycle. Some of the songs were taken faster than usual, like "Frühlingssehnsucht" and others, like the playful "Standchen" were slowed down. Some were sung with such quiet intensity the audience could be felt leaning forward to catch the words, which were delivered throughout with drama and attention to the meaning of the text.

These artists found a logical break for the interval in the middle of the Schubert cycle. The first half finished with the "Abschied" with text by Ludwig Rellstab. The last seven songs, to words of Heinrich Heine, were given their full, dark and almost existential expression. The penultimate song, "Der Doppelgänger," delivered with measured pace and bone-chilling intensity, was the emotional high-point of the evening. The gentle "Die Taubenpost," played almost as an encore, was an effective bookend to this remarkable evening

Frank Cadenhead

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