Hugo Wolf’s Lieder output is usually heard in venues that are smaller and perhaps acoustically better suited to the art of song than the Barbican Hall. Transcending its size Diana Damrau, Jonas Kaufmann and Helmut Deutsch brought intimacy to their performance of the Italian Songbook and a great deal of preparation had gone into the re-ordering of the forty-six songs. Each half of the programme was subdivided into two sections separated by a brief pause, each quarter presenting a sub-set of settings fashioned into a loose narrative. The first and last retained their usual positions and the harmonic progression from song to song was maintained despite the creation of a dramatic flow.
Whilst the men were in evening dress throughout, Damrau’s attire changed subtly at each quarter with the introduction of a different coloured wrap to match the four colours present in the patterning on her dress – a long black creation sprinkled with pale and strong pink flowers and green leaves. What was also evident was the generous rapport of the three performers, the singers in their native tongue showing in their subtleties interpretation, interplay and communication; both hail from Bavaria. Kaufmann radiated a sense of humour and idealism to the more-ardent and idealistic protestations, whilst Damrau ran the gamut of playfulness, occasional fieriness and a captivating winsome quality.
Both artists are adept at colouring words and phrases, as well as controlling dynamics and thus bringing the songs to life. Damrau’s careful emphasis on the word “Grün” in ‘Gesegnet sei das Grün’ whilst wrapping herself more tightly with that colour of wrap was an instance; another was the articulation of the consonants in the latter part of ‘Wer rief dich den?’ to great effect. Kaufmann was warmly indulgent in ‘Wie soll ich fröhlich sein’, demonstrated his warm mezza voce in ‘Sterb’ich, so hüllt in Blumen meine Glieder’ and brought a hymn-like intensity to ‘Benedeit die sel’ge Mutter’.
Deutsch was an important player in both senses, alert to the singers and also adept at illuminating the individual tinta of the piano parts. Memorable were the expressionism of ‘Mein Lieb stersingt am Haus’, the lilt of ‘Ein Ständchen Euch zu bringen’ and the barbed humour to the culminating passages of ‘Wie lange schon war immer mein Verlangen’ – made doubly funny owing to his concentration and poker-faced presentation. All in all this was a winning presentation of a wonderful conceit of a programme.