EIF 19: Anguish and Intensity in Henschel’s Delivery of Jedermann Monologues





United KingdomUnited Kingdom Korngold, Wolf, Martin, Mahler: Dietrich Henschel (baritone)), Steven Osborne (piano), Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh, 27.8.2012 (SRT)

Goodness, what an intense morning! I’ve commented a few times this year about singers who use their facial expressions, to greater or lesser effect, during song recitals. No-one watching Dietrich Henschel this morning would doubt that the expression he inhabited the most is one of grim, unrelenting angst!

The centrepiece of his recital was Frank Martin’s monologues from Jedermann. This German version of Everyman was written by Hugo von Hofmannsthal, Strauss’s librettist and co-founder of the Salzburg Festival where the play used to feature every year. Martin had been considering turning the play into an opera, but instead settled for setting six of Everyman’s monologues, but what grim issues they deal with! Each is a desperate attempt to come to grips with deep issues of life, death and the hereafter, and Martin’s settings match the text in terms of anguish and intensity. It was in this sequence that Henschel was most at home, imbuing each song with forceful passion, and seemingly setting his face against the implacable issues that Everyman was facing. Indeed, at times the force of his concentration seemed so great that it seemed that he would struggle to recover! Steven Osborne, not that well known as a lieder accompanist, was a key partner in bringing to life Martin’s bleak harmonic landscape which barely broke out of the most pessimistic territory.

One work does not make a recital, however, and elsewhere I couldn’t shake off the feeling that Henschel couldn’t settle into the rest of his programme. His voice is rich and intense to listen to in the middle, but he repeatedly seemed to struggle at the top, almost gulping for the notes in his first Korngold sequence, and his pitching went dangerously awry in Wolf’s Michelangelo Songs.

Mahler was more comfortable territory for him, especially the lovely early song Ich ging mit Lust but, even though not all was great, I’ll remember this morning for a very long time because of the sheer involvement he showed with Martin’s monologues – an intensity I’ve seldom seen from a lieder recitalist on any stage.

The concert was broadcast live on BBC Radio 3 and will be available via the iPlayer for seven days after the concert date.

The Edinburgh International Festival runs until Sunday 2nd September at a range of venues across the city. A selection of performances will be reviewed in these pages. For full details go to www.eif.co.uk

Simon Thompson