Gesänge des Harfners, D478-80
Drei Lieder nach Gedichten von Michelangelo
Markus Werba (baritone) & Gary Matthewman (piano)
Reviewed by: Ben Hogwood
Reviewed: 25 February, 2013
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London
Nineteenth-century Lieder can be unremittingly bleak, and the first six songs of this BBC Radio 3 Lunchtime Concert offered few shards of light. The Austrian baritone Markus Werba was to have given this recital with Andreas Haefliger, but due to his unavailability Gary Matthewman, a regular partner of Werba’s, deputised with impressive ease. Werba began with three Goethe settings by Schubert, each occupying the sombre key of A flat minor. These were given with solemn tone, although conversely ‘Wer sich der Einsamkeit ergibt’ (Who gives himself to loneliness) could have been even sparser. Matthewman’s expansive chords in the postlude of ‘Wer nie sein Brot mit Tränen ass’ offered some repose but ‘An die Türen’ returned us to the dark side.
There followed the three last songs of Hugo Wolf, set to texts by Michelangelo and written just before the composer was committed to an asylum. There is strong defiance in the words, recognised by Werba in the proud declamation at the respective ends of ‘Wohl denk’ ich oft’ and ‘Fühlt meine Seele’. His harsher tone was deliberately that of someone elderly, and Matthewman’s creeping left-hand line at the beginning of ‘Alles endet, was entstehet’ (All must end that has a beginning) was a similarly chilling evocation of old age.
It was something of a relief to reach the light and shade of Dichterliebe, contrasts within that Werba and Matthewman were very sensitive to. A limpid account of ‘Ich will meine Seele tauchen’ (Let me bathe my soul) preceded Werba adopting a more hollow tone for the outburst of dignity ‘Im Rhein, im heiligen Strome’ (In the Rhine, the holy river). The success of any performance of Dichterliebe depends as much on the pianist, for Schumann writes very descriptively for the piano. Matthewman was fully alive to nuances and inflections, and the postscript to ‘Am leuchtenden Sommermorgen’ (One bright summer morning) was beautifully rendered, while the ultimate postlude was also sensitive. It was entirely appropriate to end in this deeply thoughtful way rather than with the imposition of an encore.