Monday, April 27, 2009

Röslein auf der Heide...

~ so there are temptations which exist for us who love music and wine and good food more than most monkeyshines, where at some point the one takes precedence over the other. Bob Millman got a culinary invite he couldn’t turn down, and went off to Chicago for the weekend, leaving me with two tickets to hear René Pape sing Lieder at Carnegie Hall, his NYC recital début, accompanied by pianist Brian Zeger, in a programme of Schubert, Wolf and Schumann, whose song-cycle Dichterliebe constituted the second half of the programme.

I had heard Pape a year ago at the Staatsoper Unter den Linden in Berlin, playing Second Bass to James Morris in a wonderful and slightly twisty production of Wagner’s
Die Meistersinger with Barenboim at bat, a splendid evening by any and all accounts. What a voice! Dramatic presence, focus—and even a bit of stagecraft—

so was very happy for the chance to see the man wearing tails standing in the bentside of a glittering Steinway on the stage of Carnegie Hall.

the programme opened with a group of Schubert songs: Aufenthalt, Ständchen and poor sad Atlas—then took a slight leap forward in time to Hugo Wolf’s setting of poems by Michaelangelo Buonarotti—yes,
that Michaelangelo—before settling back in to a larger group of Schubert Lieder to round out the first half.

And what a wonderful warm and lovely voice! This big and that deep, one didn’t always demand that it be agile, that it got allowed time to let sound and sentiment develop... Pitch flawless, phrasing exemplary, diction impeccable. An intelligent interpreter, without any of the pieces being overladen by the artist.

During the first batch of Schubert I wondered about the accompaniment—thought it perhaps a bit rough and over-pedaled, but then I looked down and Mr Zeger’s foot was not resting on the aforementioned accelerator—thought about it and thought about it, and realised that since Pape is a basso, the songs would’ve been transposed down a fourth or so—which meant that the octave-doublings in the Schubert accompaniments were positively growling out of the piano. The Wolf songs were written for the bass voice, and so found themselves at home in a more measured patch of ivory and ebony.

Schubert’s accompaniments are like a phantom orchestra being expressed through the piano. If he had been a rock keyboard player, he would’ve been Garth Hudson. Both Wolf and Schumann are thinking of the piano more in terms of it being a piano, and it seemed that Zeger’s style favoured this sort of writing, which meant that the Schumann profited most of all from excellent ensemble work—

a digression... my favourite Schubert song,
Heidenröslein, to a poem by Goethe, was not my favourite performance, and it had to do with the piano playing, which I didn’t find sufficiently crisp and animated. So I dug into Youtube this morning, and listened through Bostridge and Schwarzkopf and a couple more—and found Fritz Wunderlich to be totally sublime, so far as the singing went, but the combination of Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and Gerald Moore remains the best, and it’s because of Moore. Please, do not underestimate the importance of the accompanist in these pieces. They are ensemble works, and the guy sitting down is much more than half as important as the guy standing up.

...highlights of the recital were the Schumann cycle, and Schubert’s Lachen und Weinen.

Excellent evening, two encores including one pop-hit and numerous bows before we found our way to a late snack and a bottle of Wieninger Gemischter Satz 07 at Seasonal...

I was very well pleased with René Pape in tails—am tempted to go to
Die Walküre at the Met tomorrow night and see how he does wearing a bear-skin...

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