Christoph Prégardien Champions Lesser-Known Schubert Lieder

01/11/2015

 Schubert: Christoph Prégardien (tenor); Christoph Schnackertz (piano). Wigmore Hall, London, 29.10.2015 (CC)

Schubert, Part 1: An Emma, D113. Der Jüngling am Bache, D192. Der Liebende, D207. Der Traum, D213. Die Laube, D214. Hoffnung, D251. Ritter Toggenburg, D397; Part 2: Edone, D445. Die Liebesgötter, D446. Der Hirt, D490. Bei dem Grabe meines Vaters, D496. Der Alpenjäger, D524. Nach einem Gewitter, D561. Trost, D671. Nachtstück, D672. Nachtviolen, D752. Auflösung, D807

In June this year, Christoph Prégardien gave a memorable Winterreise, an account I speculated may well make it to my selection of Concerts of 2015. The present concert found him giving the next instalment of the Wigmore Hall’s Complete Schubert Songs (I have already covered a couple: here and here). In the June Winterreise, Prégardien was accompanied by the excellent Michael Gees; here, it was the turn of Christoph Schnackertz, a pianist who formed a duo with this singer in 2012 and who has acted as accompanist to Prégardien’s Lieder class in Cologne. There is a resultant and clear rapport between the two musicians; and yet, in the initial stages of the recital at least, Schnackertz failed to convince, coming across as rather ill-at-ease. Not in any sense of physical demeanour, rather through a somewhat nondescript delivery of the vital piano parts.

This was certainly the case in the 1814 Schiller setting, An Emma, D113, where Prégardien was superb – the gorgeously held note on the final syllable of “das vergangne Glück” being the perfect example – his pianist rather more earth-bound. This singer’s capacity for conveying narrative trajectory is one of his most compelling qualities, a trait viscerally encountered in the 1815 Schiller setting, Der Jüngling am Bache; his affinity with Schubert’s use of gesture, too, came into brilliant use for the breathless opening of the impetuous setting of Ludwig Christoph Heinrich Hölty’s Der Liebende (D207).

One of the strengths of Prégardien’s Winterreise a few months ago was the sheer variety of his delivery. So it was here: the “simplicity” of the charming Der Traum (Hölty again, 1815) was simply lovely; contrasting this were the lyric lines of Die Laube (Hölty, 1815), beautifully shaped by Prégardien. Schubert’s pared-down piano textures were here convincingly delivered by Schnackertz.

If I did not find the Schiller song Hoffnung, D251 to be Schubert’s most inspired, the rarely-heard ballad Ritter Toggenburg, again to a poem by Schiller, is a masterpiece that deserves more frequent airings. Perhaps the Crusade-based story is, as the booklet writer suggests, not particularly to modern audiences’ tastes, but this is a terrific, gripping, dramatic piece. Prégardien and Schackertz’s performance was good, but perhaps did not quite take the listener into the unfolding story to the fullest extent.

Less than half an hour for the first part of the concert hinted at an early bath; the second half was about the same length, but Prégardien was at least fairly generous with encores. The second part opened with the introduction of a new poet to the evening: Klopstock, in the form of Edone, D445 (1816). The very simple accompaniment was perhaps a touch plodding, but Prégardien was in his element; and his technique was sterling, something also evident in the cleanliness of his slurs in the sweet but erotic Der Liebesgötter (to a poem by Johann Peter Uz, set in 1816).

Schnackertz found freshness in the hunting figures in Der Alpenjäger (Mayrhofer, 1817), and sweetness in the music-box accompaniment to Nach einem Gewitter (Mayrhofer, 1817). The powerful single lines and stripped-down textures of Bei dem Grabe meines Vaters, D496 (1816) were only emphasised by being surrounded by these songs.

It was another Mayrhofer song that provided one of the true highlights of the evening: Trost (1819, sometimes known by its first line, “Hörnerklänge rufen klagend”). Here was Schubert at his most inspired, and Prégardien served the nuances of the melodic line with great relish; Schubert’s 1819 Mayrhofer setting, Nachtstück, could hardly have been more different. The bare textures (which could conceivably have spoken even more powerfully than under Schnackertz’s fingers) are massively impressive, as is the slow “walking” bass alone against the voice at “So nimmt der Alte seine Harfe”. In fairness, Schnackertz redeemed himself in the final stanza, creating a velvety carpet of sound, reflecting the text: “Die grünen Bäume rauschen dann” (“then the green trees will rustle”).

There were not too many famous Schubert songs in this particular recital, but many in the audience were surely familiar with Nachtviolen (Mayrhofer, 1822). Again, I have heard sweeter piano openings than on the present occasion, but the vocal contribution was faultless in its blanched cleanliness. Finally we heard Auflösung (1824, Mayrhofer), another well-known song. Prégardien and Schnackertz’s restrained opening was beautifully done, the perfect preparation for the song’s climactic pleas for dissolution at “Geh’ unter, Welt”. There followed three encores: Der Schiffer (Mayrhofer), the extended Im Walde (Schlegel) and Abschied (Mayrhofer).

The programme booklet included a couple of songs in which verses were missing, which for those amongst the audience following the text must have been galling. Furthermore the text printed was not always that which was sung (the text gave “Die der schöne Lenz” in D192, but Prégardien sang “der holde Lenz”, for example). Nevertheless, this was a timely reminder that there are delights aplenty among the lesser-known Schubert Lieder.

Colin Clarke

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