Anne Schwanewilms & Roger Vignoles at Wigmore Hall – Richard Strauss & Schoenberg

Ach Lieb, ich muss nun scheiden, Op.21/3; All’ mein Gedanken, Op.21/1; Nachtgang, Op.29/3; Geduld, Op.10/5
4 Lieder, Op.2
Drei Lieder der Ophelia, Op.67; Winterweihe, Op.48/4; Wiegenliedchen, Op.49/3; Wer lieben will, muss leiden, Op.49/7; Ach was Kummer, Qual und Schmerzen, Op.49/8; Blindenklage, Op.56/2; Traum durch die Dämmerung, Op.29/1; Schlagende Herzen, Op.29/2; O wärst du mein!, Op.26/2; Waldseligkeit, Op.49/1

Anne Schwanewilms (soprano) & Roger Vignoles (piano)

Reviewed by: Ben Hogwood

Reviewed: 16 June, 2010
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London

Roger Vignoles. Photograph: Ben EalovegaRoger Vignoles’s enterprising Wigmore Hall series of Richard Strauss songs came to a close with this recital from Anne Schwanewilms, who has already contributed to his project to record the composer’s entire output for voice and piano for Hyperion. As Vignoles outlined in an illuminating programme note, the popularity of a small number of these songs has led to a general ignorance of the rest of the composer’s output, much of which is original, harmonically forward-looking, and often enigmatic.

This recital was sensibly programmed, given the demands of the repertoire on both performers and audience – very much a case of quality rather than quantity, with each half of the recital lasting just over 40 minutes. As a helpful reference point Vignoles chose to contrast Strauss with four early song examples from Arnold Schoenberg.

Schwanewilms kept herself ‘well oiled’ with occasional sips of tea, and it was easy to see why this was necessary with the extremities of emotion and dynamics demanded by Strauss. She began with something of a slow introduction in the yearning ‘Ach lieb, ich muss nun scheiden, before the difficult melodic contours of ‘All’ mein Gedanken’ made themselves known, beautifully shaped by both singer and accompanist. The carefully thought programming made the transition from the hushed final sentence of ‘Nachtgang’ to the broad structure of ‘Geduld’ an easy one, both sharing the key of A flat, and Vignoles’s postlude in the latter caught perfectly the chromatic nuances Strauss was introducing to his songs even in 1885.

Anne SchwanewilmsThe four Schoenberg Lieder may have received their first performance in 1900, but sounded fresh off the page here. The chromaticism of the first song, ‘Erwartung’, gave an ethereal air to Vignoles’s accompaniment, the mysterious moonlit backdrop partially illuminated. Schwanewilms dealt with the difficult melodic phrases with apparent ease, as she did in the composer’s second Dehmel setting, ‘Schenk mir deinen goldenen Kamm’. Given its controversial subject material, an apparently amorous relationship between Jesus and Mary Magdalene, the composer’s rapt harmonies were pointed toward an indulgent ending in F sharp, suitably ecstatic in this performance. After a helpful pause, Schwanewilms giving the following ‘Erhebung’ a beautiful sense of phrasing before the Mahlerian calm of ‘Waldsonne’, which culminated in a striking unison between vocalist and the upper register of the piano. Though not far removed from Strauss’s own harmonic language, Schwanewilms and Vignoles communicated a sense of the path Schoenberg was beginning to forge with his ever-adventurous harmonisations.

Returning to Strauss, we heard the strange triptych of Opus 67, written as a rebuke to his publisher. These settings of Shakespeare were vividly characterised, traversing wildly differing moods between verses, yet retaining a measured grasp of structure. The distinctive yet unwieldy melody of ‘Wie erkenn’ ich mein Treulieb’ (How shall I know my true love) was well communicated, as was the awkward, tongue-in-cheek waltz of ‘Guten Morgen, ‘s ist Sankt Valentinstag’.

After the interval we heard a nicely structured selection of some of the composer’s best songs, illustrating also the quasi-orchestral nature of Strauss’s piano accompaniment. Vignoles had complete command of this in ‘Wiegenliedchen’, with Schwanewilms’s lower register ideally weighted, while the humorous side of Strauss was revealed in his setting of Curt Mündel’s ‘Ach was Kummer, Qual und Schmerzen’, in which Schwanewilms employed the members of the audience as her knowing confidants, with an array of winks and knowing smiles. Perhaps the single most beautiful moment of the concert, however, came with a weightless performance of ‘Traum durch die Dämmerung’, beautifully evoking the transition from the setting of the sun to the emergence of the stars.

As an encore, Schwanewilms gave a wonderful rendition of ‘Das Rosenband’, the first of the composer’s Opus 36 songs – and, rather appropriately, held her bouquet as she sang.

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