Christine Brewer & Roger Vignoles at Wigmore Hall– Richard Strauss Lieder

Zueignung, Op.10/1; Die Georgine, Op.10/4; Breit über mein Haupt, Op.19/2; Wie sollten wir geheim sie halten, Op.19/4; Hochzeitlich Lied, Op.37/6; Glückes genug, Op.37/1; Ich liebe dich, Op.37/2; Befreit, Op.39/4; Gesänge des Orients, Op.77 [Ihre Augen; Schwung; Die Allmächtige]; Wiegenlied, Op.41/1; In der Campagna, Op.41/2; Die heiligen drei Könige aus Morgenland, Op.56/6; Frühlingsfeier, Op.56/5

Christine Brewer (soprano) & Roger Vignoles (piano)

Reviewed by: Ben Hogwood

Reviewed: 7 December, 2009
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London

Christine Brewer. Photograph: Christian SteinerIt is perfectly possible to imagine that Christine Brewer’s voice was exactly what Richard Strauss had in mind when writing for soprano. Of his two-hundred or so Lieder, many are written for the higher voice, often demanding robust, full-toned interpretations.

That was certainly what they received in the course of this BBC Radio 3 Lunchtime Concert, drawing much of its repertoire from Brewer’s disc as part of Hyperion’s series on the composer. Wigmore Hall is similarly enjoying explorations of the outer fringes of Strauss’s vocal output, and this programme cleverly juxtaposed better-known examples with some rarities.

Into the former category fell ‘Zueignung’ and Die Georgine’, the former challenging Brewer’s higher range almost immediately, though the top B flat was comfortably negotiated. The latter emphasised how difficult some of these songs are for the pianist, though Roger Vignoles fitted together the ever-changing harmonies and melodic lines with ease.

It was interesting in two of the songs to note the orchestral work occupying the composer at the time. The grand, ceremonial ‘Ich liebe dich’ and the ardent outpouring of ‘In der Campagna’ were published either side of Ein Heldenleben; both sharing the symphonic poem’s key (E flat) and considerable forward drive.

Roger Vignoles. Photograph: Ben EalovegaStrauss rarely set words by well-known poets, but his Opus 77 set is obscure in the extreme, taking oriental texts from Hafiz through Hans Bethge. These made curious translation to English as part of the provided text – with “Pass me my beaker” being particularly odd. Brewer’s high register sparkled in ‘Ihre Augen’, while the demanding accompaniment of ‘Schwung’ again found Vignoles up to the heroic task.

Two settings of a better-known poet, Heinrich Heine, formed the closing pair of the last group, with the seasonally apt ‘Die heiligen drei Könige aus Morgenland’ a real curiosity. In its extended prelude and postlude Vignoles was superb, effectively asked as he was to play the part of an orchestra. The song begins with a solemn introduction that magically turned as the three kings saw the light, while after some vivid word-painting of the baby crying and the cattle lowing, an even longer postlude was serene and beautifully pointed.

Elsewhere in the recital was a beautifully sung ‘Wiegenlied’, each verse as one phrase, and an account of ‘Befreit’ that began in darkness but gradually progressed to the light, its curious modulations aided by some subtly employed rubato. The enchanted ‘Hochzeitlich Lied’ (Bridal Song) was spaciously performed, an air of mystery from the closely-grouped piano melodies transcending to the slowly-turned soprano line, while the melodies of the earlier song ‘Breit über mein Haupt’ were effortlessly floated by the soprano.

As an encore Brewer and Vignoles gave one of Strauss’s best known songs, ‘Allerseelen’ – which forms the last of the eight published as Opus 10. The stillness both found towards the end was particularly moving.

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