The Heine Lieder from Schwanengesang, D957
Der Tod, das ist die kühle Nacht, Op.96/1; Es schauen die Blumen, Op.96/3; Meerfahrt, Op.96/4; Es liebt sich so lieblich im Lenze, Op.71/1
Hanno Müller-Brachmann (bass-baritone) & Hendrik Heilmann (piano)
Reviewed by: Ben Hogwood
Reviewed: 16 January, 2012
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London
This BBC Radio 3 Lunchtime Concert took as its theme the poetry of Heinrich Heine, exploring his verse as set by contemporaries Schubert, Brahms and Schumann. Heine died in the same year as Schumann, 1856. Exploring the verse proved a challenge for artists and audience alike, for the poet often used moments of blackness immediately juxtaposed with a strange, almost ecstatic joy. These abrupt mood-swings clearly suit the music of Schubert and Schumann in particular.
The recital plunged straight in to darkness with the settings of Heine from Schubert’s Schwanengesang, which were performed with profound expression and resonance by Hanno Müller-Brachmann, whose technique of half-whispering some of the quieter passages lent the words an extra chill. ‘Die Stadt’ found a match of thoughtful singing and incredibly responsive piano-playing from Hendrik Heilmann, whose muffled accompaniment vividly evoked “the town with its turrets” that “looms like a misty vision”. ‘Am Meer’ was slow but poignant, while ‘Ihr Bild’ also stood still, its major-minor-key oscillations creating strong tension. Müller-Brachmann was visually expressive, too, with arms often outstretched, his tone carrying above the piano despite the use of the instrument on the highest stick, except for ‘Der Atlas, where the steely glint of the left-hand octaves compromised the balance. However the dynamic range in the cycle’s defining song, ‘Der Doppelganger’, was impressive.
Brahms was not as prolific in his use of Heine, turning to the poet in the 1870s in the wake of Schumann’s success. ‘Es liebt sich so lieblich im Lenze’ had an attractive lightness. There was more weight applied initially to ‘Der Tod, das ist die kühle Nacht’, but this song too became more-positive as its second verse progressed, with flowing accompaniment from Heilmann.
Schumann’s Opus 24 Liederkreis dates from his famed year of song, 1840, and explores the same ebb and flow between exultation and nightmarish thoughts. The latter was felt through the pointed staccato of the piano, depicting the hammering of the carpenter in ‘Lieb Liebchen’, while ‘Schöne Wiege meiner Leiden’ explored much more erratic thoughts through Müller-Brachmann’s increasingly frenzied delivery. The opening poem, ‘Morgens steh’ ich auf und frage’, found the pair playing around with the tempo too much, pulling out the phrases, while Heilmann took too long to resolve the harmony at the end of ‘Berg und Burgen’. Ultimately hope was found in the closing ‘Mit Myrthen und Rosen’, the light textures of the performance in defiance of the heaviness of the text.
Appropriately the encore was another Heine setting from Schumann – the pair a “good match” in Müller-Brachmann’s aside to the audience. The completely unhurried performance of Die Lotosblume which followed was again visually expressive as well as beautifully phrased.