sat 21/10/2017

Anne Schwanewilms, Charles Spencer, Wigmore Hall review - going deep in Schubert | reviews, news & interviews

Anne Schwanewilms, Charles Spencer, Wigmore Hall review - going deep in Schubert

Anne Schwanewilms, Charles Spencer, Wigmore Hall review - going deep in Schubert

The great soprano and her regular pianist give a masterclass in Lieder

Anne Schwanewilms: perfect poise

They say that Wigmore Hall audiences know their Lieder singers, but last night's far from packed house dispelled that illusion; the hall has been full for much lesser artists than German soprano Anne Schwanewilms. No matter; she gave her usual masterclass, ineffably poised between tone-colour, phrasing and word-pointing. Having hit the heights in Strauss, Schumann and Wolf in previous recitals, she found a deep centre this time in serious, almost operatic Schubert. Regular song-partner Charles Spencer's space and orchestral sonorities helped conjure vast landscapes and epic human emotions in an imaginative programme that touched on the profound.

The wrappings weren't pure fluff, either. Franz Schreker's early Op. 3 songs give no indication of the adventurer to come, but he lends a bittersweet twist to reflections on a past love by Paul Heyse. There was a subtle ambivalence here, plus the sense of transience that belongs to Schwanewilms' greatest character-study as the Marschallin in Der Rosenkavalier. The set began with a few flat notes as the voice got into gear, but by the end of the second and third songs the high-flying rapture and generous tone we associate with the soprano's Strauss came to the fore. Few Lieder-singers address the audience so directly, the physical stillness relieved by the most elegantly expressive hand gestures in "Das Glück” (“Joy”) and a dash of the comedy Schwanewilms does so well in "Umsonst" (“In vain”).

Rarely can Schubert’s three "songs of Ellen" adapted from Walter Scott have cast a stranger or more hypnotic spell. Schwanewilms kept the direct soldier-worship of No. 1 inward, only to retreat into even more secret raptures in stanzas about harp-led lullabies and dawn choruses. Spencer (pictured below by Jan Neubert), whose amplitude gives her breath-control full rein without ever dragging, had the intermezzo-like lion's share of the central hunting song; then the famous "Ave Maria" was an exercise in poise and legato. Amazing how Schwanewilms can fleck a single note with gold in mid-flight.Charles SpencerWhatever happened to "Das Mädchen", the first of the advertised Schubert songs after the interval, I don't know; but by starting with "Die Junge Nonne" (“The Young Nun”), Schwanewilms and Spencer provided perfect symmetry in the opposite side of the coin to "Ave Maria" – through anguish and turbulence to two simply affirmative "Hallelujahs". The ghost voice from the grave of "Schwestergruss" (“Sister’s Greeting”) was surpassed only by death beckoning to the maiden in one of Schubert's most epigrammatic utterances; those haunting repeated notes, the lower register which reminds us that the singer started out as a mezzo. Time truly froze here.

If we thought we were out of the valley of death with Spencer's sparkling water-music in the first of Liszt's songs from Schiller's William Tell, the relief was short-lived; from the depths of the lake comes another spectral voice to summon the fisher-boy to his death. Liszt sounded at his deepest, too, in the central shepherd's farewell to the summer pastures, Schwanewilms excelling at ambiguity as usual.

The human sentiments, sentimentality even, of three Korngold Lieder from 1928-29 were the perfect rich dessert, the first, “Was Du mir bist?” (“What are you to me?”) as much of a qualifier for one of the most heart-piercing lovesongs in the repertoire as the best of Mahler or Strauss. Such soaring here; and if the Strauss encore, the quirky "Ach, was Kummer, Qual und Schmerzen" ("Ah, the grief, the torment, the pain"), needed a German audience to understand the text in order to properly interpret the delightful boss-eyed grimacing. we had all the opulence we needed in Korngold’s “Welt ist stille eingeschlafen” (“The world has gone to sleep”), the official end to an unusually shapely and enriching recital. More Schubert next time, please: I haven’t heard as sheerly beautiful a sound in his Lieder at the Wigmore since Gundula Janowitz and Margaret Price, and certainly no more probing interpreter.

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