Dorothea Röschmann – The Art of a Lieder Singer

16/02/2018

Various: Dorothea Röschmann (soprano), Malcolm Martineau (piano), Zankel Hall at Carnegie Hall, New York, 13.2.2018. (RP)

Dorothea Röschmann © Harald Hoffmann/Sony Entertainment

Schubert – Gesänge aus Wilhelm Meister D.877, Nos.2-4: ‘Heiss mich nicht reden’, ‘So lasst mich scheinen’, ‘Nur wer die Sehnsucht kennt’; ‘Kennst du das Land’ D.321; ‘Nachtstück’ D.672

Mahler – Rückert-Lieder

Schumann – Gedichte der Königin Maria Stuart Op.135

Wagner – Wesendonck Lieder

There is so much to admire and treasure about the German soprano Dorothea Röschmann. A singer who creates an entire world within the confines of a few pages of music, she can smolder with dramatic intensity but expresses it within the natural limits of her voice. In the opera house, she has sung the roles for which her instrument is ideally suited. A distinguished Mozartian, now approaching an age when many sopranos consider fading from the scene, her voice is still fresh and heavier repertoire awaits her. This is how it is supposed to be.

‘Do not bid me speak’ were the first words that Röschmann sang in Schubert’s ‘Heiss mich nicht reden’, as if reluctant to invite the audience into the singular spheres of emotion that she and Malcolm Martineau would create. ‘Nur wer die Sehnsucht kennt’ burned with intensity, while she was flirtatious in ‘Kennst du das Land’ as she sweet-talked her lover into escaping to the unimaginable delights of a land where lemon trees bloom.

A frog in her throat needed to escape which precipitated a brief pause before ‘Nachtstück’. Certainly the discomfort was greater for her than the listener. If technique alone could have solved the problem, she would have prevailed.

Mahler’s Rückert-Lieder opened with a coy ‘Blicke mir nicht in die Lieder’. ‘Ich atmet’ einen linden Duft’ and ‘Liebst du um Schönheit’ were lighter than air, all golden, silken sound. The intense emotions of ‘Um Mitternacht’ and ‘Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen’ displayed the richness and power of the voice. In the latter, if the protagonist could not find the might to do battle at midnight, Röschmann clearly did, hurling out ‘Mit meiner Macht’ as she surrendered her fate to the Almighty.

Schumann’s songs to poems attributed to the ill-fated Mary Queen of Scots were an aural palette cleanser coming after the Mahler, preparing the listener for the chromaticism and languid emotions of Wagner’s Wesendonck Lieder. The five songs are Schumann at his sparest. Each is a mini drama, charting the young widowed queen’s departure from France, where she had been so happy, to the birth of her son and the ultimately fatal decision to flee to England. The floated amen that concluded her prayer for her son’s safety and glory was in stark contrast to the despair of her final one, after her dreams and schemes had come to naught.

As in the Mahler, singer and pianist created Wagnerian depth and spaciousness through texture, color and emotion. Röschmann will never sing Isolde, but the passions of the Irish princess blazed in ‘Im Triebhouse’ and ‘Träume’, studies for Wagner’s landmark opera. Most impressive was the seamless richness of her voice as she poured out a stream of luscious legato. Attention to detail was still there, however, with individual words painted to heighten the emotional intensity of music composed when the composer was consumed by a passionate and illicit affair.

Martineau is a storyteller himself, giving each song its own innate sense of drama and purpose. In ‘Nachtstück’ it was as if voice and piano were intertwined like vines, like a soul that has known only suffering longs for peace. The piano was the last sound heard in both halves of the program — the extended postludes of ‘Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen’ and ‘Träume’ — transporting the audience into a realm of transcendent bliss.

There were three encores, all announced by Martineau. Two flowed freely, Liszt’s ‘Es muss ein Wunderbares sein’ (by his standards a simple love song) and the intoxicating moonlit spell of Schumann’s ‘Die Lotosblume’. Röschmann sent a shiver down my spine when she bit into the word ‘sein’, commanding rather than bidding that love be a wonderful thing. A third, Wolf’s ‘In der Frühe’, needed to be coaxed from her. Before the ringing of the morning bell, there was a restless, anxiety-ridden night to endure, which Röschmann etched to perfection.

Rick Perdian

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