Lieder, Op.40 [selections]: Märzveilchen; Muttertraum; Der Soldat; Der Spielman
Lieder und Gesänge, Op.98a [selections]: Harfner songs Wer nie Brot mit Tränen ass; Wer sich der Einsamkeit ergibt; An die Türen will ich schleichen
Christian Gerhaher (baritone) & Gerold Huber (piano)
Reviewed by: Douglas Cooksey
Reviewed: 7 August, 2006
Venue: Cadogan Hall, London
This well-planned Schumann programme – “Dichterliebe” balanced by the three Harfner songs at its close – drew a full and attentive house. Christian Gerhaher and Gerold Huber, both born in 1969 in the same Bavarian town of Straubing, come with the finest of pedigrees, Gerhaher having studied with Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Inge Borkh, and the late Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, and Huber with that great accompanist Helmut Deutsch. They are a real duo, having performed together for 18 years, and each clearly has an intuitive understanding of what the other is doing, rather as Peter Pears and Benjamin Britten did.
Gerhaher’s voice is a glorious instrument and one ideally suited to the settings of Heine in “Dichterliebe”. Technically a baritone with a real foundation to the voice, especially valuable in heavyweight songs such as ‘Im Rhein, im heiligen Strome’ and ‘Ich grolle nicht’, Gerhaher also encompasses with ease the cycle’s high-lying moments such as ‘Die Rose, die Lilie, die Taube, die Sonne’. How wonderful also to hear a singer who cultivates a true legato with no trace of ‘barking’. Unusually, Gerhaher studied medicine first, his musical career coming later, and in his treatment and colouring of words there is a rare intelligence at work. For instance, the sacrilegious throwaway line at the end of ‘Im Rhein’ – “exactly like my sweetheart’s” – comparing her eyes, lips and cheeks to the effigy of the Madonna in Cologne cathedral was precisely timed and weighted.
Huber’s contribution was similarly thoughtful, the all-important piano postludes to songs such as ‘Wenn ich in deine Augen she’’ (When I look into your eyes) drawing playing of rare concentration, and there was subtlety too in the way ‘Am leuchtenden Sommermorgen’ (On a bright summer’s morning) found an echo of the opening song ‘Im wunderschönen Monat Mai’ (In the glorious month of May).
The four selections from Opus 40, setting poetry by Hans Christian Andersen, are not on the same level musically as “Dichterliebe” or the Harfner songs, but they marked a useful staging-post in the programme and drew superb performances: appropriately melodramatic in “Der Soldat”, in which a man’s best friend is deputed for his firing squad, and extraordinarily prescient in “Der Spielmann” (The Fiddler), its last lines reading “Oh God – have mercy, let none of us go mad; I too am just a poor musician”.
. The three elliptical Harfner songs from Goethe’s “Wilhelm Meister” have fascinated song composers from Schubert on and drew settings from Hugo Wolf (who felt that neither Schubert nor Schumann had really understood the characters of Mignon or her father as Goethe portrayed them), yet Schumann’s version – especially “Wer nie sein Brot mit Tränen ass (Who never ate his bread in tears) – has an almost Wolf-like chromaticism. Gerhaher brought a tonal weight and concentration worthy of Hans Hotter, crowning this magnificent Schumann recital with a magnetic encore, “Der Einsiedler” (The Hermit).