Notes from the 2012 Salzburg Festival – 11

AustriaAustria Beethoven, Schubert, Brahms Matthias Goerne (baritone), Christoph Eschenbach (piano), Grosser Saal, Mozarteum, Salzburg, 15.8.2012 (JFL)

Beethoven: Six Gellert Songs op.48
Schubert: Three Harper Songs D478
Brahms: Four Serious Songs op.121, Select Songs set to H.Heine poems, Lieder op.32

As a nightcap: A Liederabend in the Mozarteum with Matthias Goerne and Christoph Eschenbach. A promising thing, that—not the least because Goerne’s hand-picked Schubert-cycle on Harmonia Mundi has proven such a delight; far better than I had expected. The execution, alas, didn’t really please. No fault of that being Eschenbach’s, whose pianism, despite his conducting duties, betrays plenty of practice (unlike that of one of his colleagues who, the same night, across the river, played—though reportedly wonderful—Schubert). Eschenbach’s contribution came to the fore first in Schubert (“Three Harper Songs” D478), after the two musicians had gone through six songs by Beethoven, all mercifully and efficiently shorn of their strophic repeats.

available at Amazon
F.Schubert, “An Mein Herz”,
M.Goerne / H.Deutsch, E.Schneider
Harmonia Mundi

Some fault could also be found with Brahms’ Four Bloody Serious Songs, which, by using the same text from the Book of Eccelisastes as Zimmermann in his cantata (“I turned and beheld all evil under the sun”, albeit in a less archaic translation than “BAZi”), cleverly bridged to the contemporary program from two days before. But not all can be blamed on the composer, especially not the nuance-free bugling and roaring of Goerne, whose voice sounds—no matter where he sings—as though it traveled the first few yards through the vestibule of an old castello. His instrument becomes very touching when he takes it back a little, like on “O Tod, wie wohl tust du dem Dürftigen” (in the third of those four serious songs), or “Ich lehnte mich über die Brücke” (from “Wie rafft’ ich mich auf in der Nacht”, op.32/1). When he does that, it also improves his elocution to the point where you can understand the text he is singing, whereas elsewhere it’s a guessing game whether he just said “Engelszungen” or “Ochsenzunge”. Although no fault of Goerne’s, he’s not helped by Christian Gerhaher setting the bar so high in Lieder, that one is just about spoiled and ruined for different, but yes: ultimately better, more subtle approaches to art song.

More of the same from Eschenbach and Goerne in the second, all-Brahms half: exceptional pianism in “Meerfahrt”, op.96/4, a little welcome relaxation on the low baritone’s part for “Sommerabend” op.85/1, and otherwise a convincing impression of a musical moose, mightily in love. Stirring occasionally, frustrating eventually.

Jens F. Laurson