An die ferne Geliebte is the first song-cycle, Beethovens finest contribution to Lieder. The piano links each song, underlining the cyclic, unified construction; within each song Beethovens pianistic resource subtly reflects the words.Beethovens art - more complex in its concision, perhaps more difficult for the listener - is less obviously attractive than Schuberts.
Goerne and Brendel heightened An die ferne Geliebtes emotional content, declaiming as if one musician. Yearning for the unobtainable underlines this cycle. Brendel delineated Beethovens rusticity and birdsong without threatening the musics intensity or structure. The cycle ends with a reference to the first song, elaborated to a majestic finale, fully realised here by Goernes probing, emotional portrayal.
Schwanengesang is not Schuberts compilation; rather publisher Tobias Haslinger collected the composers seven settings of Rellstab and six of Heine, adding Die Taubenpost (Seidl). That said, the Heine group does form a collection of longing and loss songs; the Rellstab selection is more varied in its subjects and includes three sensual love songs. Goerne and Brendel chose to supplement the Rellstab group with Herbst (D945) placed between Aufenthalt and In der Ferne which inhabits a similar world to the others; Herbst has previously been interpolated by Peter Schreier and Brigitte Fassbaender. To keep the cycle at fourteen numbers, Die Taubenpost was offered as an encore; Rellstab and Heine were separated by the interval a song-cycle fragmented.
In Schwanengesang, as in the Beethoven, Goerne was at his peak - his dark-toned, soft-grained, warm, emotionally charged voice rising to the challenge of these wonderful songs, Brendel a perfect companion. Brendel has been accused in some quarters of an over-intellectual approach, which can squeeze-out musics feeling. This was certainly not the case here as evinced by his lovely, rippling water music playing in Liebesbotschaft or his perfectly delicious shaping of the incomparable melody of Ständchen; the fast, trotting rhythm of Abschied was exhilarating. In contrast, for Heine, one was numbed by Brendels shiver during the disturbing Die Stadt - in the last line, Wo ich das Liebste verlor (where I lost my love). In Der Atlas, Brendels array of dynamics and colour was illuminating.
Goerne charmed in Ständchen, revealed the grim irony at the close of Kriegers Ahnung, and was an uncompromising portrayer of alienation in Aufenthalt and In der Ferne. For the Heine songs, Goerne tracked inevitably through initial optimism via gradual darkening to hallucination the ultimate song, Der Doppelgänger, was shattering, the audience stunned into a long silence before applauding, indicative of Goerne bringing every word vividly to life.
There is no such thing as perfection - these two artists came pretty close to making that assertion false.
- Alfred Brendels next appearance on the South Bank is Monday, 18 June, in the QEH at 7.45. With Katharine Gowers, Lucy Jeal, Douglas Paterson and Adrian Brendel, Mozarts two piano quartets and the A major piano concerto (K414) are performed.
- Box Office: 020 7960 4201
- Book Online: www.rfh.org.uk
- Colin Anderson reviews the "Brendel at 70" recital of 30th May 2001
- Ying Chang reviews the 70th Birthday concert with the Philharmonia on 30th June 2001