Diana Damrau & Helmut Deutsch at Barbican Hall – Liszt, Richard Strauss, Wolf

“Diana Damrau is a singer who seems to have it all: capable both of dazzling vocal fireworks, and a richness and intelligence that takes her right into the heart of the German romantic repertoire. This recital launches a series of concerts in which she sings the music of Richard Strauss… … her instinct for characterisation informs everything she performs, making her a near-ideal champion of Strauss’s songs: each one – like the Wolf and Liszt songs with which she completes this recital – a miniature music-drama in its own right.” [Barbican Centre website]

Diana Damrau (soprano) & Helmut Deutsch (piano)

Reviewed by: Amanda-Jane Doran

Reviewed: 16 January, 2019
Venue: Barbican Hall, London

Diana Damrau & Helmut Deutsch at Barbican HallPhotograph: Mark Allan / BarbicanDiana Damrau and Helmut Deutsch opened with Liszt and displayed vocal and pianistic pyrotechnics: the rippling introduction to Der Fischerknabe was magically evocative and Damrau’s silvery tones cast a spell which was unbroken for the entire recital. Schiller’s fisher-boy is enticed by angelic voices to the depths of the lake. Damrau’s powerful gift for story-telling was evident at once and her leaps and trills were breathtaking, and Deutsch’s virtuosity and expression perfectly supported and enhanced her dramatic musicianship. Sensuous word-painting came next with Die stille Wasserrose, the first of several songs celebrating the female in flower form, Damrau’s opulent vocal character to the fore. Liszt’s ballads do not possess the spare and psychological depths of Schubert’s, but Der König in Thule and Die Loreley were powerful narratives. Hugo Wolf’s nostalgic and intense Mignon-Lieder filled the rest of the first half, Damrau’s theatrical and vocal conviction was complete: ‘Kennst du das Land’ broke our hearts.

A gorgeous bouquet of Richard Strauss songs combined passion and gentle wit with the madness of Ophelia. Einerlei describes the erotic spirit of fun and mysticism in a lover’s mouth and eyes, a charge that permeates so much of Strauss’s music, including the heavenly Das Rosenband and Cäcilie. Damrau’s emotional and vocal stamina was inexhaustible as she soared superlatively through this ineffably moving repertoire. There were three encores: Liszt’s Es muss ein Wunderbares sein, Strauss’s elegant trifle, Nichts, and his most-moving love-song, Morgen!

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