Markus Schäfer & Piers Lane at Wigmore Hall – Schubert Lieder

Wiedersehen, D855; Abendlied für die Entfernte, D856; Sprache der Liebe, D410; Die gefangenen Sänger, D712; Widerspruch, D865; Am Fenster, D878; Irdisches Glück, D866/4; Bei dir allein!, D866/2; Wiegenlied, D867; Sehnsucht, D879; Der Wanderer an den Mond, D870; Das Zügenglöcklein, D871; Im Freien, D880

Markus Schäfer (tenor) & Piers Lane (piano)

Reviewed by: Mark Valencia

Reviewed: 17 February, 2013
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London

Markus SchäferThe four songs that opened this Sunday afternoon Wigmore Hall Schubert recital by Markus Schäfer and Piers Lane were to verses by August Wilhelm von Schlegel, while their encore, ‘Florio’ (D857/2), is a charming serenade whose text was wrongly ascribed to Schlegel for many years but is now known to have been written by Wilhelm von Schütz, originally for inclusion in a play. The nine remaining songs in an agreeably varied hour’s worth were all settings of poems by Johann Gabriel Seidl and included such rare gems as ‘Das Zügenglöcklein’ (The passing bell) and ‘Sehnsucht’ (Longing).

While the programme was artfully chosen and consistently attractive, the absence of interpretational colour from the German tenor’s palette prevented him from communicating several of the songs with sufficient subtlety and depth. He was at his best in settings where the music could look after itself, so the Marche militaire mood of ‘Widerspruch’ (Contrariness) suited him well, as did the lilting melody of ‘Der Wanderer an den Mond’ (The Wanderer addresses the moon) and the Schöne-Müllerin-inflected ‘Bei dir allein!’ (With you alone!).

Piers LaneFor the rest, despite some impassioned gestures and facial expressions, tonal variation and responsiveness to text were at a premium. As sung, the delightful ‘Wiegenlied’ (Cradle song) could have been either a lullaby or a lament; to a non-German speaker it would have been impossible to tell which without the printed translation to hand. There were other issues, too, that prevented this recital from giving as much pleasure as it might: Schäfer’s voice had a tendency to become constricted under pressure, there were sporadic problems with intonation and his tone was not always adequately supported.

Piers Lane was a generous and tactful accompanist who complemented his partner while being careful not to eclipse him. From his gentle and emphatic playing in the quartet of Schlegel songs to his tripping delivery of the repeated chord figures in ‘Im Freien’ (In the open), Lane was as attentive to Schäfer’s idiomatic style as he was to Schubert’s delicacy and infinite variety. We should hear him in this repertoire more often.

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