Irish mezzo Tara Erraught’s visits to London are all-too-few and far-between and her recital at London’s Wigmore Hall confirmed her status as an artist of distinctive warmth and virtuosity. Her programme explored musical settings of celebrated German verse, notably by Goethe and Rückert, and the links between settings by different composers, which resonated throughout the recital.
Erraught’s lustrous tone was evident from the start, a voice growing in power and expression. Her carefully selected programme opened with settings of Goethe, familiar as Lieder to music by Schubert. Erraught chose to investigate the versions by Loewe, Schubert’s contemporary, whose work was favoured by Goethe himself. Comparisons can be odious, and Loewe’s songs do appear constrained in their generally strophic approach, with conventional, elaborate decoration in the piano accompaniment. In the hands of Erraught, however, they came to dramatic life. ‘Meine Ruh’ ist hin’ brought vivid agitation to Gretchen’s plight and the ‘Szene aus Faust’ was beautifully coloured, with a touching intensity. James Baillieu’s contribution was no less exquisite. The two ‘Wandrers Nachtlieder’ which followed are amongst the poet’s most serene lyrics and Schubert’s versions embody the text in a way that Loewe never quite succeeds in. Fascinating to hear, if only to confirm Schubert’s complete mastery of the form.
A light and humorous set of later (1837/8) Loewe’s Rückert settings came next and made a fabulous contrast to the profound and passionate poetry of Goethe. Erraught raced through ‘Irrlichter’ and ‘Hinkende Jamben’ with perfect comic timing and wicked expression. Loewe’s ‘Frauenliebe’ (1836) was composed four years before Schumann set the same poems by Adelbert von Chamisso and the settings are striking in that the musical narrative is mainly single mood within each poem, there is no sense of psychological depth or the continuity of Schumann’s Liederkries. Notwithstanding, Erraught’s account of a young woman’s journey through marriage to widowhood was sensitively modulated and the final two songs of shock and bereavement made a great impression in the Hall.
Erraught and Baillieu excelled themselves in Mahler’s Rückert-Lieder, the jewel of the recital. The emotional kaleidoscope of love and spiritual doubt was conveyed with a sincerity and depth of musicianship that was simply breath taking. A recording is required. The delicacy of ‘Ich atmet’ einen linden Duft’ and the drama of ‘Um Mitternacht’ were particularly memorable. Erraught’s vivacity and natural theatricality came into play with the final set of Irish songs, two traditional and two by Hamilton Harty. ‘The lark in the clear air’, first sung by Erraught as a child, was given with enormous charm, after a brief, engaging introduction from the singer, who referred to her favoured, brilliant, accompanist, James Baillieu as ‘twinkle fingers’.
The appreciative audience agreed and were treated to a magical encore, conjuring more nostalgic, expansive Irish landscapes, ‘Gortnamona’ by Percy French.