Werner Güra & Christoph Berner

Die Verschweigung; Das Lied der Trennung; Das Traumbild; Sehnsucht nach dem Frühlinge; An Chloe; Das Veilchen
Schwanengesang, D957

Werner Güra (tenor) & Christoph Berner (piano)

Reviewed by: John T. Hughes

Reviewed: 28 February, 2007
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London

After this recital, a friend of mine commented that he was so impressed by Werner Güra’s use of voice and his intelligent approach that he was taken back 50 years to the first recital he heard by Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau. It was Güra’s knowing how to use the voice that had the biggest impact on me too, particularly his singing of “Schwanengesang”.

Güra displayed a wide range of vocal colours, with subtle gradations – from full, open sound to a head-voice, just bordering on falsetto in one place. His partner Christoph Berner was very much in accord in his weighing of tonal emphases, the two of them presenting a recital of sensitive and varied music-making.

The Mozart songs are pleasant items without the richness and interest of the composer’s operatic arias, and Güra sang them stylishly, but the meat of the programme came with the Schubert group, and especially with the slower, more intense songs. ‘In der Ferne’ was sung with a wrenching sense of grief and desolation that I found almost mesmerising, and it was in that vein that I responded to ‘Ihr Bild’, whose sadness was all but tangible in Güra’s introspective interpretation of the memory of the girl now lost to the poet. The sorrow of ‘Am meer’ and the woman who “has poisoned me with her tears” came across with no unneeded lachrymosity but with the sense of loss conveyed through vocal nuancing. Rightly or wrongly, one often expects a baritone rather than a tenor to find the vocal colouristic contrasts and changes for ‘Das Doppelgänger’, but Güra enthrallingly brought before us the intensity and bleakness of this haunting song.

Equally attractive were such pieces as ‘Ständchen’ and ‘Das Fischermädchen’, in which Güra heightened his tone compared with that used for the concentrated earnestness of the aforementioned songs, while showing that the underlying theme of each poem is not one of frivolity.

There was much quiet singing and the voice, even at its lowest volume, carried to the back of the hall (where critics are placed); some of the singing was very intimate. Güra’s is not an opulent voice (he is a Mozart tenor rather than a Wagnerian), but he is vocally versatile. The supportive and accurate playing of Berner contributed greatly to the evening’s pleasure, whether in the sparse accompaniment to ‘In der Ferne’ or in the more flowing fingerwork needed for ‘Abschied’, the latter maybe taken a mite too quickly.

Harmonia Mundi is about to release a CD of these two artists performing “Schwanengesang” (with six other Schubert songs). One of the extras on the disc is “An den Mond”, which we heard here as a lyrically sung encore.

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