Das irdische Leben
Serenade aus Don Juan
Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen
Am Bach im Frühling, D361
Der Tod und das Mädchen, D531
Nacht und Träume, D827
Der Zwerg, D771
Die Sterne, D939
Im Abendrot, D799
Nähe des Geliebten, D162
Rastlose Liebe, D138
Gretchen am Spinnrade, D118
Litanei auf das Fest Aller Seelen, D343
Wanderers Nachtlied II, D768
Alice Coote (mezzo-soprano) & Julius Drake (piano)
Reviewed by: David M. Rice
Reviewed: 2 April, 2006
Venue: Alice Tully Hall, New York City
Coote began with five Mahler songs from “Des Knaben Wunderhorn”, a collection of German folk poetry published in the early nineteenth-century. Ironically, the first song, “Frühlingsmorgen” (Spring Morning), is a wake-up call from the Spring to one who has overslept, with the ending sung softly and tenderly. The mood changed sharply in “Nicht Wiedersehen” (Never to Meet Again) as Coote dramatically conveyed the emotions of a lover grieving for a dead sweetheart. In the parable of “Das irdische Leben“ (The Earthly Life), Coote affectingly depicted the tragic consequences of a mother’s procrastination and, in “Serenade”, gave voice to Don Juan’s ardent wooing. The selection of ‘Wunderhorn’ songs concluded with a delightful rendition of “Selbstgefühl” (Self-Esteem), with Mahler’s own quirky lyrics and changing rhythms and tempos.
Throughout the recital, Coote produced a beautiful sound across her broad vocal range, and this was nowhere more evident than in the four songs comprising “Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen” (Songs of a Wayfarer), a jilted lover wanders off in despair, longing for death.
In ‘Wenn mein Schatz Hochzeit macht (When My Darling Marries) Coote projected the spurned wayfarer’s sadness, descending to deep, rich tones. The upper end of Coote’s range was also on display as she beautifully intoned the joyous greetings of birds, bluebells and sunshine, only to sink into the wayfarer’s despairing that happiness can never bloom for him. In the highly chromatic ‘Ich hab ein glühend Messer’ (I Have a Glowing Knife), Coote artfully managed the transition from the song’s stormy and impassioned opening to its more reflective, but equally agonized conclusion. The wayfarer’s sorrows continue into the cycle’s concluding song, but this time ending on a note of optimism, expressed in Coote’s lovely concluding pianissimo and Drake’s brief but touching postlude.
In the second half of the programme, Coote and Drake demonstrated their artistry as Schubert interpreters in 13 Lieder that ran a wide emotional and musical gamut. Coote began with an uplifting “Frühlingsglaube” (Faith in Spring) and along the way offered an intensely moving “Der Tod und das Mädchen” (Death and the Maiden), in which her vocal heft was most effective in portraying the maiden’s aching plea and the comforting voice of death, and a chilling account of the ballad, “Der Zwerg” (The Dwarf).
Other highlights were a pellucid performance of “Die Sterne” (The Stars), with Drake nimbly playing the recurring motif that serves as introduction, interlude and (in an abbreviated form) postlude, and subtly answering the vocal line, and an intense reading of “Gretchen am Spinnrade” (Gretchen at the Spinning-Wheel), the first of Schubert’s many settings of Goethe’s poetry, with Drake’s relentless accompaniment representing the spinning-wheel, turning in time with the shifting emotions of Coote’s vocal line.
The penultimate song was a superbly rendered “Litanei auf das Fest Aller Seelen” (Litany for the Feast of All Souls), surely one of Schubert’s most beautiful lieder. It might have been more effective to end the programme with the Litanei, as the succeeding performance of “Wanderer’s Nachtlied II” (Wanderer’s Nightsong II), although beautifully sung, was anticlimactic and might better have been saved for an encore. As it was, Coote and Drake offered Schubert’s “An die Musik” (To Music).
While in New York, Coote will be making her Metropolitan Opera debut as Cherubino in Mozart’s “Le nozze di Figaro” on 12 April, including a matinee performance on 22 April that will be broadcast worldwide. Drake also will be performing again in New York this spring, accompanying Camilla Tilling on 12 May in Carnegie Hall’s Weill Recital Hall, and joining Ian Bostridge and Dorothea Röschmann in an all-Schumann recital at Carnegie’s Zankel Hall on 13 May.