2 Songs with Viola, Op.91
Nicht mehr zu dir zu gehen, Op.32/2; Von ewiger Liebe, Op.43/1; Ständchen, Op.106/1; Von waldbekränzter Höhe, Op.57/1; Die Mainacht, Op.43/2
Sara Mingardo (contralto) & Stefano Gibellato (piano) with Jane Atkins (viola)
Reviewed by: Ben Hogwood
Reviewed: 28 March, 2011
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London
The two songs Brahms wrote for contralto with viola accompaniment added to the piano are among his most beautiful music, and began this BBC Radio 3 Lunchtime Concert with a keen sense of yearning. In the tension and resolution of the viola’s melodies, beautifully played by Jane Atkins, there was a strong pull at the emotions, though her performance-style, frequently bending her knees, was a little off-putting. Additionally the balance was less in favour of Sara Mingardo, especially in the lower-register writing where it proved difficult to pick up the text. That said, the second song, ‘Geistliches Wiegenlied’, was especially beautiful, Mingardo’s full bodied but sensitively applied voice carrying nicely over Atkins’s lilting melody.
Turning her attention to Mahler’s “Rückert-Lieder”, Mingardo sang once again with great sensitivity and attention to the text. Choosing largely broad tempos, she performed ‘Um Mitternacht’ last of the five songs, rather than placing ‘Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen’ at the close. As it turned out these were the best of the five, with Stefano Gibellato’s watchful motif supplying the punctuation to ‘Um Mitternacht’, Mingardo deep in thought at the opening but impressively powerful at the climax, while there was a strong sense of control over the long, rich notes in ‘Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen’, tenderly delivered.
Mingardo finished with a selection of Brahms’s Lieder, juxtaposing the darkness of ‘Von ewiger Liebe’, and its hollow piano tone, with the thrumming zither of ‘Ständchen’, the piano part nicely characterised if a little congested. This proved a feature of the accompaniment with some of the chords clumped together so that it was difficult to register the individual melodic lines. The performers were sadly hindered twice by the same mobile-phone, ringing during the first two verses of ‘Die Mainacht’, but Mingardo gave the song a powerful conclusion, taking a strategic breath before singing of the “lonely tear” that “quivers more ardently down my cheek”. It was therefore gracious indeed of them to give an encore, a persuasively rendered account of the first of Brahms’s Op.105 collection, ‘Wie Melodien zieht es mir’.