Markus Schäfer and Piers Lane presented a fascinating programme of daring contrasts in style and content at Wigmore Hall from the beginning and end of Schubert’s song-writing career.
The first poet featured was Theodor Körner, playwright and patriotic soldier, whose work had taken Vienna by storm in 1812. Körner’s heartfelt love lyrics possess a sincerity and lightness of touch beautifully matched by the eighteen-year-old Schubert’s treatments of his verse. ‘Sängers Morgenlied’ and ‘Liebesrausch’ were both set twice in 1815. Schäfer’s attention to detail regarding text and mood was matched by musical insight and communicative power. Liebesrausch was set first in March 1815 as a pared-back plangent fragment and again the following month as an ecstatic and formal declaration of love, both versions persuasive and moving: singer and pianist teasing out every nuance with grace and charm. Throbbing hearts gave way to flirtatiousness in ‘Liebeständelei’ and Das gestörte Glück’, Schäfer describing a youthful desperation for kisses with ardent words and gestures in a playful folk idiom. His upper register was a little stretched at times, but his expressive ability more than made up for any vocal deficiencies.
Friedrich von Matthisson was a contemporary and favourite poet of Beethoven. His work has a studied, ornate style, already old-fashioned by Schubert’s time, but firmly in the Romantic canon. Italianate formality combines with a forward-looking chromaticism in ‘Entzückung’ and ‘Stimme der Liebe’, as the beloved is seen reflected in every aspect of the beauty of nature. Pantheism and the divine is emphasised in ‘Vollendung’ and ‘Die Erde’, simple expressions of devotion.
Friedrich Schlegel’s verse paints a panoramic and expansive view of man’s place in the world. Schubert’s settings of his poetry are amongst his finest achievements. Schäfer selected several exquisite gems describing sunset, mountains, and most movingly, the nocturnal evocations of ‘Die Sterne’ (stars) and ‘Die Gebüsche’ (bushes) which were transporting with the profundity and mysticism of words and music divinely combined. By contrast, the poetry of August von Schlegel is austere and rhetorical. The recital concluded with Schlegel’s Shakespeare translation of “Hark, Hark the Lark” – ‘Ständchen’ – which Schäfer and Lane performed with appropriate bravura, and then further delighted with a dreamy setting by Friedrich Schlegel, ‘Der Schiffer’, of a boatman in love, lulled by the motion of the waves and the light of the moon.