Christian Gerhaher & Gerold Huber

Das Lied von der Erde – Die Einsame im Herbst
Des Knaben Wunderhorn – Wo die schönen Trompeten blasen; Nicht wiedersehen!; Zu Strassburg auf der Schanz; Das irdische Leben; Urlicht
Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen

Christian Gerhaher (baritone) & Gerold Huber (piano)

Reviewed by: Ben Hogwood

Reviewed: 9 July, 2007
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London

The closing concert of BBC Radio 3’s cureent Monday lunchtime season at the Wigmore Hall was given over completely to Mahler Lieder, with the highly regarded baritone Christian Gerhaher singing a selection of songs exhibiting early verve and late musings.

The later material came first, in the form of the second movement from “Das Lied von der Erde”. Gerold Huber met the challenges posed by the transcription of orchestral writing and his responses to Gerhaher’s phrases were poised and thoughtfully worked out. The wind was vividly evoked by the pianist. In this respect he was an ideal foil for Gerhaher, whose careful control of vibrato – sometimes eschewing it altogether – was an interesting feature of his performing style.

There followed five selections from Mahler’s collection of songs “Des Knaben Wunderhorn”, which highlighted well the links between Mahler and Schubert. Gerhaher successfully blended wide-eyed innocence with darker undertones, again finding in Huber an accompanist of variety and colour. “Urlicht”, usually performed by a mezzo-soprano as the fourth movement of the ‘Resurrection’ Symphony, made an almost timeless appeal, reaching complete stillness in the lead up to a serene end.

As the focus on Mahler’s output continued to look back, Gerhaher closed with “Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen” (Songs of a Wayfarer). These bittersweet settings have a tendency to begin with bright optimism before what can only be described as an abrupt reality check. So it is that ‘Ging heut’ morgen übers Feld’, whose theme became the principal motif of Mahler’s First Symphony, springs forward to extol the delights of nature before suddenly realising they won’t be seen forever.

Gerhaher caught these sentiments well, though his fortissimo passages were sometimes overbearing. This could, however, be taken as evidence of an expressive commitment that strongly characterised each song.

Huber, meanwhile, continued the fine detail of his accompaniment, whether in the skittish phrases that open ‘Wenn mein Schatz Hochzeit macht’, or the soft transition to F major with which the final song ‘Die zwei blauen Augen von meinem Schatz’ so beautifully ends.

Here Gerhaher was at his best, a soft timbre to his voice as it gently fell to rest, finally reaching the peace longed for by the wayfarer. It was a radiant way to finish – and Gerhaher left us suitably bereft of an encore.

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