Wie raft ich mich auf, Op.32/1; Nicht mehr zu dir zu gehen, Op.32/2; Ich schleich’ umher, Op.32/3; Feldeinsamkeit, Op.86/2; Meerfahrt, Op.96/4; Auf dem Kirchhofe, Op.105/4; Ständchen, Op.106/1; 49 Deutsche Volkslieder – Da unten im Tale, WoO33/6; Ach Gott, wie weh tut Scheiden, WoO33/17
Im Rhein, im schönen Strome, S272/2; Ein Fichtenbaum steht einsam, S309/1; Es muss ein Wunderbares sein, S314; Freudvoll und leidvoll, S280/2; Der traurige Mönch, S348; Die Vätergruft, S281
Henk Neven (baritone) & Hans Eijsackers (piano)
Reviewed by: Ben Hogwood
Reviewed: 17 September, 2012
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London
Henk Neven and Hans Eijsackers began this BBC Radio 3 Lunchtime Concert at Wigmore Hall with a chronologically arranged and well-chosen selection of nine of Brahms’s Lieder. Initially these were darkly coloured and sombre in mood, with the burnished tones of Neven’s baritone exposed but also beautifully rendered. Eijsackers proved an ideal accompanist, painting the scope of a song either in expansive introductions or postludes. He was also sensitive to the singer’s dynamics. As the selection progressed the mood lightened a little, a wonderful sense of stillness found in ‘Feldeinsamkeit’. ‘Ständchen’ tripped along lightly, the criss-cross rhythms delightfully employed, while ‘Auf dem Kirchhofe’ found room for further contemplation, its chorale-like closing stanza drawing heavily from J. S. Bach. The two closing settings are rarely heard examples from 1894. ‘Da unten im Tale’ sets an unnamed Serbian poet in German translation, and anguish was etched on the face of the music for ‘Ach Gott, wie weh tut Scheiden’ (Ah God, how painful parting is), Neven was unforced in the former, then subtle but sombre in the latter.
It proved instructive comparing the polished and structured Brahms examples with the more responsive work of Liszt, with emotions and descriptions closer to the surface, sometimes blatant if hugely effective, particularly ‘Ein Fichtenbaum steht einsam’ (A spruce tree stands lonely) and its evocation of cold and hot climates. Eijsackers was often required to perform as a soloist, and his freely flowing depiction of the Rhine in the opening song was a highlight, as was the thunderous introduction to the melodrama ‘Die traurige Mönch’ (The sad monk), the most adventurous of the selection here, Neven detailing a ghost-story both chilled and revolted, particularly at its bleak end where a rider’s horse walks into a lake. Eijsackers’s interjections and postscripts were vivid, using dynamic extremes, the duo offering a dramatic pause in the poem’s centrepiece when the horse sees the ghost, the music chilling due to Liszt’s tritones. Finally ‘Die Vätergruft’, seeming to self-quote from the B minor Piano Sonata, with its stepwise melody ringing out clearly from Neven and ending on a low ‘F’, which made an even more powerful impact when Eijsackers arrived at the same pitch moments later.
With Brahms and Liszt on the programme, the only way to end was with a drinking song – as an encore was Brahms’s uproarious setting of Goethe’s Unüberwindlich (Opus 72/5), an unexpected moment of recklessness in the composer’s output and performed by Neven with a roguish smile.