Drei Gesänge des Harfners
Wandrers Nachtlied II
Peter Schreier (tenor) & András Schiff (piano)
Recorded on 1 July 1991 at Wigmore Hall, London
Reviewed by: John T. Hughes
Reviewed: May 2006
CD No: WIGMORE HALL LIVE
Duration: 79 minutes
Peter Schreier omits the Seidl poem “Die Taubenpost” from this “Schwanengesang”, offering the seven Rellstab settings then Heine’s six. His reputation as a Lieder singer stands high, “universally acknowledged to have been the foremost tenor interpreter of Lieder” is Patrick O’Connor’s description in the booklet. Schreier made recordings when a boy in the Dresden Kreuzchor and went on to become one of the most recorded of tenors. András Schiff stands tall among today’s pianists: a virtuoso soloist who is also a highly successful accompanist.
Schreier is an intense conveyer of the mood of a song. Once at the Wigmore Hall I was in tears during his singing of “Nacht und Träume” following a harrowing performance of “Winterreise”. He possesses the ability to colour the voice and to caress or emphasise verses, phrases, single words as demanded by the meaning. How differently he treats the four stanzas of “Kriegers Ahnung”, the second Rellstab song. How eloquently he varies weight in “Ständchen”, in which both he and Schiff skilfully employ rubato. “Aufenthalt” is launched darkly (“Thundering river, raging forest”), and if low notes are gravelly they are minor faults. “In der Ferne” is almost a scene rather than a song, from which both artists extract the inherent despair, almost nihilistic in that nothing seems to exist any longer.
After the crashing chords of “Der Atlas”, the Heine settings continue with the tenderness of “Ihr Bild” well contrasted, with Schreier supplying an introversion which suggests that his subject cannot believe fully just what has happened. For “Die Stadt”, he presses on the tone to reduce the lightness employed in the preceding “Das Fischermädchen”, bringing a biting bitterness to the final couplet as he refers to the town “where I lost what I loved most”. A lighter touch is supplied by singer and pianist to “Am Meer”, but it is again unhappiness that is being expressed, and resignation, a resignation which turns to desperation, verging on insanity, in “Der Doppelgänger”, which may be excessive for some listeners. Schreier uses so many colours and nuances in these songs that one could question its being the one singer. Schiff’s playing makes its own but concurrent contribution.
Just as one can communicate meaning by bringing varied emphases to the spoken word, so a singer adjusts his tone to suggest happiness, sorrow, anger or any other emotion. Those who do not bother to do so are often dull, uninteresting and monochromatic. Peter Schreier performs kaleidoscopic changes of vocal patterns. The three Harper songs of Goethe, though hardly touched by joy or humour, are in marked contrast, both verbally and musically, to the galloping “Der Musensohn”. Between that and the Harper group is “Wandrers Nachtlied II”, a song with such a sad but beautiful tune that one regrets that there are no more verses. Tenderly accompanied, wistfully sung, with grammatically sensible phrasing, it simply charms.
How natural is Schreier’s pronunciation. He knows that the tone on a vowel should be brought right up to the ensuing consonant, which should be clear but not exaggerated. Once or twice one hears a little frog in Schreier’s throat: more a tadpole really and unimportant in the scheme of things, as is the occasional hint of a twang on the piano at the end of a line. This being a live performance, one hears coughing and page-turning after some songs, but you don’t have to be there: you are there.