sat 24/08/2019

Schubert Recital 2, Christian Gerhaher, Gerold Huber, Wigmore Hall | reviews, news & interviews

Schubert Recital 2, Christian Gerhaher, Gerold Huber, Wigmore Hall

Schubert Recital 2, Christian Gerhaher, Gerold Huber, Wigmore Hall

Well-grounded Lieder duo undertakes a poised winter journey in the second of three recitals

A noble pair: pianist Gerold Huber and baritone Christian Gerhaher take a winter journeyAlexander Basta for BMG

Some great singers know how to modulate their beautiful instruments for long vocal life; others push technique and expression to the limits in countless concerts of a lifetime before burnout. Baritone Christian Gerhaher, it seems, belongs to the beautiful and the secure. I'm glad to have heard his Winterreise, a far from lonely journey given the partnership of pianist Gerold Huber, but it always felt like a songbook entrusted to a calm exponent of truth and wisdom rather than the first-person narration of Schubert's heartbroken winter wanderer.

It all depends what you want from the richest of all song cycles, one that has very personal and diverse meanings for its many admirers. Gerhaher comes nowhere near the abyss of Peter Anders - whose extreme 1945 interpretation, once heard, can never be forgotten - but his even, rich, highly inflected baritone, with its necessary bass extension, is also a long way from the pipsqueak winter journeys of ex-cathedral tenors like Mark Padmore. At full pelt he can sound like the greatest of all Lieder singers, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, without the bark that generous artist tended towards in in later years.

The phenomenon Gerhaher can most call his own is how to get from the pitch-perfect slivers of sound with which his journey began and ended to full, operatic outbursts: we'll probably not hear a more total slice of the consummate singer's art than the quick swells of "Wasserflut" ("Torrent"). He can hone the focus, too, for more agile songs like "Die Wetterfahne" ("The Weathercock"), and strike the right note of still gravitas for the great, later sequence of five nails in the coffin. But did I really feel the anguish of the wayfarer who seeks, and finds, no rest in "Der  Wegweiser" ("The Signpost")? Hardly at all.

Huber, several of whose perfectly poised final suspended cadences brought delighted coos from some of the Wigmore ladies, effortlessly wrought the necessary sense of space and essence to the rocking chords of "Das Wirtshaus" ("The Inn"), and its counterpart in the penultimate song did bring a kind of consummate resignation from Gerhaher before the final ghost hurdy-gurdy bleakness. But there was a tendency to treat each song as self-contained rather than a stage on a journey; I couldn't help think of Elisabeth Leonskaja's solo-piano Schubert adventures, where no-one in the audience dares move a muscle between movements. "Harrowing", as I heard one audience member proclaim on the way out, it was not, for me; but probably this very objective, aristocratic duo never intended it to be. Like I said, it depends what you want from your Winterreise.

The phenomenon Gerhaher can most call his own is how to get from pitch-perfect slivers of sound to full, operatic outbursts

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