An die ferne Geliebte, Op.98
Poème d’un jour, Op.21
Quatre chansons de Don Quichotte
Herr Oluf, Op.2/2; Süsses Begräbnis, Op.62/4; Wandrers Nachtlied II, Op.9/3b; Hinkende Jamben; Odins Meeresritt, Op.118
Henk Neven (baritone) & Hans Eijsackers (piano)
Reviewed by: Ben Hogwood
Reviewed: 17 January, 2011
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London
A curious and seemingly unrelated programme made up this BBC Radio 3 Lunchtime Concert. Not that every recital should have closely linked repertoire, but this collection of works, save for Beethoven’s song-cycle, were a little way off the beaten track.
Henk Neven and Hans Eijsackers began with a cogent performance of Beethoven’s compact “An die Ferne Geliebte”, emphasising both its thematic unity and emotional elusiveness. There was a nice sense of holding back as Neven sang “still weste, bringt im Wehen” in the third song (soft west winds, waft my sighs), and an appealing brightness to the fifth song, with its “return to May”. There was a strong sense of continuity, the performers barely pausing between songs, propelled by Eijsackers’s thoughtful accompaniment.
Fauré’s short three-part song-cycle “Poème d’un jour” was less successful, with Neven struggling to impose on the music, coloured as it is by a complicated and intricate piano accompaniment. The tempestuous central song, ‘Toujours’, made a powerful impact, as did the second verse of the final song, ‘Adieu’, where the baritone took a harsher tone to heighten the expression of loss. In the longer phrases, however, his voice retreated into the piano rather, and the vocal line felt restricted.
Jacques Ibert’s “Quatre chansons de Don Quichotte” suffered a similar fate. Written for Feodor Chaliapin, and used in Pabst’s 1933 film of Don Quixote, these settings were nicely sung, but rather polite in execution. As a result it proved difficult to fully appreciate the grandeur of the castle in ‘Chanson du depart de Don Quichotte’, despite the incisive prompting of Eijsackers’s accompaniment, with its melodic inflections beautifully phrased. In ‘Chanson à Dulcinée’ the contrast between fast staccato and languorous slow music was marked, as if Ibert had a short attention-span, but the contrast could still have been greater, the sense of yearning less evident than on the page.
By far the most successful performances came last, an intriguing group of five Loewe Lieder, showing him off as a dramatic composer, highly responsive to text. “Herr Oluf” was pure delight, Neven’s vivid storytelling bringing alive the subject’s fatal meeting with Erlking’s daughter. Eijsackers, meanwhile, has a virtuosic piano part to master, which he did with considerable flair. “Hinkende Jamben”, a setting of Rückert, was highly amusing with its tongue-twister first verse, and the manner in which Neven’s voice fell away at the end was highly amusing, depicting the limp of his sweetheart with a deadpan charm. “Wandrers Nachtlied II” was a passionate love-song, and then Neven was once again singing of Herr Oluf (the smith of Helgoland), a gruff setting whose recitatives flourished. Eijsackers had his hardest task here, but the considerable demands of the postlude were thrown off with impressive energy.
There were two encores both from Schumann’s “Myrthen” cycle, ‘Venetianische Lied I’ followed by ‘Lieder aus dem Schenkenbuch im Divan 1’ and which found the musicians relishing the material.