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...

Friday, April 24, 2009

~ a fun footnote to former foolishness... spent a couple weeks in Europe last month, most of it in Austria traveling around the wine counties, seeing people I work with as well as friends from previous incarnations.

one very pleasant meeting from among the latter was a carefully timed luncheon with Paul Achs—who had a small window between flying in from London and flying out to Düsseldorf to collect me at the Hauptbahnhof in his hometown of Gols and drive ten minutes through the vineyards to Podersdorf, where we spent and hour and a half together having lunch at restaurant zur Dankbarkeit, talking about nearly everything but business before I got dropped off again at ÖBB.

In addition to being a winegrower himself, proprietor Josef Lentsch has quite a cellarful of the Burgenland’s best bottles belowdecks: ‘a wide range, from Achs to Velich,’ as he puts it. And what did the sommelier haul out of the Schatzkammer for us on this occasion? It was a 1994 Pannobile white from Paul Achs, which was then made from a cuvée of Weißburgunder and Chardonnay—with I think I correctly remember 20% Welschriesling—

this to wash down a delicious Neusiedlerseezander—a local walleye that had himself just gotten hauled out of the neighbouring lake. Paul opted for the Wels, a catfish summoned from the same depth (that’s a joke—the Neusiedlersee is very very shallow) and put before the chef. I’d had the Wels on my previous visit to Dankbarkeit—a delicious fish indeed, with a slightly firmer flesh than the flaky fellow on my platter.

another joke is that since I come from Virginia, I can just translate my West Virginia jokes into German, and they automatically become Burgenland jokes...

the 94er Pannobile white showed nice and nutty aromas, something like those pinot blancs one sometimes finds in Burgundy, which age quite durably and show a sort of creamy flavour and pleasing texture, delicious and satisfying without ever quite aspiring to greatness...

and the punchline of this here excercise? I mentioned to Paul that I’d just had lunch at Chanterelle in New York with Bob Millman. I had first heard of Paul Achs when Chanterelle sommelier Roger Dagorn warbled his name into my ear some six years ago, and lost no time in getting his wines into the market and onto the winelist. I was able to connect once when Paul visited NYC and together go to Chanterelle for lunch, along with Bob, plus on that occasion Jodi Stern.

but no sooner had I uttered the name ‘Chanterelle’ than Achs responded, ‘
aah... seafood sausage...’
* see below posted 17 March

Friday, April 10, 2009

Paris Match

~ last month three days in Paris, first time in a couple years, including first day of spring and sunshine, entirely agreeable.

hiked up the hill and climbed the steps to la Basilique du Sacré-Coeur, looking up and looking down.

tried something new at the dinner-table,
 first time for this fool: red wine with oysters.

’twas in Huîtrière Wepler, Place de Clichy in Montmartre— the oysters were large Fines de Claire from Marrennes-Oléron, and the red was a half-bottle of 2006 Léon Beyer Pinot Noir, from the town of Eguisheim in Alsace.

and the result?

well, the Beyer tasted entirely innocent of any oak-treatment, was light and bright, leapt sprightly out of the glass, not much in the way of tannins to speak of, succulent fruit...

and the six fresh specimens of
Crassostrea gigas showed themselves as generous of flavour and texture as one could ever hope.

and the combination?

not hard to imagine, once you work your mind around the idea: Splendid, just splendid. And why? Monsieur pinot noir loves minerality—even when it’s not his own. The Beyer displayed no prominent mineral highlights, and so greedily amalgamated any inorganic nuance brought into its proximity by the bivalve into the bigger picture.

~ on dirait, peut-être, quelque chose d’huître  ~