A Distinguished Lieder Recital from René Pape and Daniel Barenboim in Berlin

GermanyGermany  Schubert, Wolf, and Schumann: René Pape (bass), Daniel Barenboim (piano). Schiller Theater, Berlin, 8.4.2012 (MB)

Aufenthalt, D 957/5
, D 957/4
Der Atlas
, D 957/8
Drei Gedichte von Michelangelo
Der Einsame
, D 800
An die Musik
, D 547
Lachen und Weinen
, D 777
, D 257
Der Musensohn
, D 764
Lied eines Schiffers an die Dioskuren
, D 360
, D 674

Dichterliebe, op.48

Not, I think, primarily associated with song, though of course possessing one of the great bass voices of our time, René Pape gave a wonderful Lieder recital on Easter Sunday, with no less a pianist than Daniel Barenboim as his partner. It was striking that, unlike many singers, Pape apparently had no need to ‘settle in’ during the first song or two, his voice immediately ‘present’ and unmistakeably rich, though it took my ears a little time to adjust to the acoustic of the Schiller Theater so far as the piano was concerned. If I say that, from Schubert’s ‘Aufenthalt’ onwards, Pape’s use of words was operatic, or, perhaps better, musico-dramatic, in a Wagnerian sense, I do not mean to imply that he was unsuited to the more intimate world of Lieder, rather that he responded dramatically to the potential of words, music, and their alchemy. In ‘Ständchen’, both musicians conveyed the menace as well as the stillness behind words and music, again testament to their dramatic experience. The third of the Schwanengesang songs, ‘Der Atlas’, brought Wotan inevitably to mind – perhaps, ironically, more so than Pape’s own Wotan did last year – with a truly orchestral, again quasi-Wagnerian, sweep accorded the piano part.

Wolf’s Michelangelo-Lieder followed. Barenboim’s opening to ‘Wohl denk’ ich oft’ emphasised Wolf’s proximity to the exploratory darkness of late Liszt. Pape’s climax proved properly defiant; though his tuning was not perfect here, the dramatic import for the most part compensated. Wotan once more sprang to mind in ‘Alles endet, was entstehet’. Liszt again hovered close in ‘Fühlt meine Seele,’ the piano part as melodic as the vocal line, Barenboim clearly relishing the ecstatic Lisztian harmonies. Even if the piano detail was occasionally clouded, the scope of dramatic sweep again provided ample compensation. The spirit, if not always the letter, was certainly observed.

The lighter material of Schubert’s Der Einsame was well navigated, indeed quite charming. Likewise An die Musik and Heidenröslein, taken, welcomely, at slower tempi than usual. Goethe’s humanistic dignity was powerfully conveyed in Prometheus through strong sense of the declamatory and of narrative progression.

The second half was devoted to Schumann’s Dichterliebe. Pape’s tone in the first song, ‘Im wunderschönen Monat Mai’, was appropriately beautiful, as was Barenboim’s. The expectancy of its successor, ‘Aus meinen Tränen sprießen’ was unmistakable. Again, I sometimes found myself making Wagnerian references: was not that the lovelorn sincerity of a Fasolt I heard in ‘Im Rhein’? But this was fine Schumann performance on its own terms. The anger and hurt conveyed in Barenboim’s postlude to ‘Und wüssten’s die Blumen’ fed directly into Pape’s bitterness of a ghost at the feast in ‘Das ist ein Flöten und Geigen,’ heightened by a true sense of dance, almost ironic in a Mahlerian sense, to the piano part. The piercing Neapolitan harmony and the sweetness of the lament in the ensuing ‘Hör ich das Liedchen klingen’ was thereby properly prepared. There was an apt suggestion of the hallucinatory to ‘Am leuchtenden Sommermorgen’; yet, commendably, it was not exaggerated: what, after all, is ‘real’, and what, in any case, might that conceivably mean? ‘Ich hab’ im Traum geweinet’ benefited from the lack of exaggeration to the preceding song; it registered properly as a further step, well planned and equally well executed. By the time we reached the final song, ‘Die alten bösen Lieder,’ Pape sounded sepulchral indeed: ‘Denn scolchem gron Sarge gebührt ein großes Grab.’ The postlude in Barenboim’s hands not only sounded deeply moving but seemed both to cast a glance back towards Bach and forwards towards Tristan und Isolde. Memory, both thematic and musical, was dramatised. As encores, we were treated to touching accounts of Strauss’s Allerseelen and Schumann’s Wenn fromme Kindlein schlafen gehn.

Mark Berry