Karg and Johnson Include Schubert Rarities in an Excellent Recital

01/12/2015

  Schubert Complete Songs (continued): Christiane Karg (soprano), Graham Johnson (piano), Wigmore Hall, London, 28.11.2015 (CC)

Gretchen am Spinnrade, D118. Nachtgesang, D119. Das Geheimnis, D250. Das Mädchen as der Frende, D252. Die Entzückung an Laura, D390. Elysium, D584. Thelka: Eine Geisterstimme, D595b. Hoffnung, D637. Strophe aus “Die Götter Griechenlands”, D677.

Ihr Grab, D736. Der Wachtelschag, D742. Die Rose, D745. Die Liebe had gelongen, D751. Du liebst much nicht, D756. Auf dem Wasser zu singen, D774. Die Mutter Erde, D788. Vergissmeinnicht, D792.

The Wigmore Hall’s Schubert series continues with the excellent Christiane Karg, a singer who has featured on the Hall’s own label to some critical acclaim. Her recital was the by now usual mix of the well-known and the rare; this one closed with an extended Schubert song, though: Vergissmeinnicht.

More of that anon. To begin at the beginning: the famous Gretchen am Spinnrade. Composed in 1814, this remains a mainstay of any Schubert Lieder recital. Karg lives each and every song, and this was nowhere more evident than here. Even from the back of the hall, one could feel the power of her eyes; her narration of the famous tale was spellbinding. Yet it is in the lesser-known waters that these recitals frequently give greatest joy, and so it was with the 1814 song Nachtgesang. The unaccompanied vocal beginning and Karg’s unaffected way with Schubert’s ostensibly simple melodic shapes gave huge delight. Johnson’s accompaniment encapsulated all of the sensitivity he is famous for.

Both the first two songs had texts by Goethe. Now it was now on to Schiller for Das Geheimnis, where again the seeming simplicity conceals a multitude of subtleties, each one honoured here by Karg and Johnson. Karg’s long, cantabile lines were lovely, as was Johnson’s velvet pianissimo at the final verse (“Leis’ auf den Zehen kommt’s geschlichen”). If contract came in the form of the more active Das Mädchen aus der Fremde, it was the seamless flow of melody of Die Entzückung aus Laura that showed just how high the standard of performance was.

The longer songs were beautiful expansions of Schubert’s core way with the Lied. Elysium, cast in a glowing E major, contains some of Schubert at his most joyous; contrasts were spectacularly managed, as was the structure of the whole. This is a major, wonderful song that was heard here in the nest possible light; Thelka: Eine Geisterstimme (Thelka: a phantom voice) was another discovery, Johnson providing sonorities of the utmost serenity for “Ob ich den Verlorenen gefunden?” (You ask if I found my lost beloved?). The lighter tone of Hoffnung gave a lighter tone before the unbelievably beautiful Strophe aus ‘Die Götter Griechenlands rounded off the first half.

The second part of the concert was entitled “Before and after the catastrophe … 1822 and 1823”. The catastrophe in question was the discovery of Schubert’s syphilis. Perhaps the preponderance of interior emotions of the first half foreshadowed the profundity and complexity of those afterwards. Karg and Johnson ensured that the sadness of Ihr Grab shone through; the mood linked to a song two distant, Die Liebe hat gelongen and to the song of heartbreak, Du liebst mich nicht. Good to have an insert of another of Schubert’s most famous songs, Auf dem Wasser zu singen, in which Karg sounded beautifully spontaneous.

Again, a longer song featured in the second half, this time Vergissmeinnicht. A piece of great variety, from the bare textures of the earlier bars (superb diction from Karg) through the gorgeous bed of sound of “Da im weichen Samt des Mooses” (There, in the soft, velvet moss) to extreme gentleness, this is a masterpiece.

A superb recital, and one short encore: Der Blumenbrief, D622.

Colin Clarke

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