Thomas Oliemans’s performances on the opera stage are attracting a great deal of attention. Seen in London earlier this year as Papageno in ENO’s Simon McBurney production of The Magic Flute and the year before singing the Count in The Marriage of Figaro to Lucy Crowe’s Countess, his natural theatricality and ringing baritone have won him many plaudits. It was with a sense of anticipation that the Dutch baritone’s Lieder recital at the Wigmore Hall commenced, with his Lieder partner pianist Malcolm Martineau.
The programme opened with a complete performance of Schumann’s Dichterliebe, a compelling and individual account from singer and pianist. Thoughtful tempos and dynamics illuminated the cycle throughout; Oliemans vocal gifts and hand gestures, unencumbered by music, made for an impressively direct emotional attack. The poems of bitter despair were particularly effective: ‘Ich grolle nicht’ was a dramatic tour de force. Subtlety and humour were not lacking either. The changes of mood between ‘Das ist ein Flöten und Geigen’, ‘Hör ich das Liedchen klingen’ and ‘Ein Jüngling liebt ein Mädchen’ were carried off with stunning virtuosity. Heine’s dream like poetry of elation and despair was conveyed in shaded understanding.
Neither did the second half of the recital disappoint. An interesting selection of songs by Schumann’s friend and Danish contemporary Niels Gade made an excellent foil to his exalted love songs and six of the Lieder from Brahms’s medieval romance Die schöne Magelone. Gade’s settings of oriental love lyrics were strikingly descriptive and refreshing. Brahms’ Tieck settings which followed are amongst the most profoundly passionate Lieder the composer ever wrote, and Oliemans and Martineau were equal to the task. These deeply felt songs of longing and separation cast Brahms in a different light: Oliemans communicated the introspection of the lyrics with vocal beauty and authenticity. His gift for storytelling was seen at its best in ‘Wie schnell verschwindet’ and ‘Treue Liebe dauert lange’, which confirmed the immortality of true love in ecstatic style. By way of encore the gentle, lilting lullaby ‘Traum durch die Dämmerung’, from Three Songs, opus 39, by Richard Strauss, combined lovesong and serene leave taking. Oliemans’s teacher Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau would have approved.