United Kingdom Mahler, Zemlinsky, Schoenberg, and Korngold:Annette Dasch (soprano), Helmut Deutsch (piano). Wigmore Hall, London, 9.7.2013 (MB)
Mahler – Des Knaben Wunderhorn: selection
Zemlinsky – Altdeutsches Minnelied, op.2
Das bucklichte Männlein, op.22 no.6
Entbietung, op.7 no.2
Meeraugen, op.7 no.3
Schoenberg – Wie Georg von Frundsberg von sich selber sang, op.3 no.1
Warnung, op.3 no.3
Mädchenlied, op.6 no.3
Der Wanderer, op.6 no.8
Korngold – Schneeglöckchen, op.9 no.1
Die Sperlinge, op.5 no.7
Was Du mir bist?, op.22 no.1
Mit Dir zu schweigen, op.22 no.2
Welt ist stille eingeschlafen, op.22 no.3
This was an excellent recital: committed performances from both artists, and a fascinating programme. Annette Dasch, whom I last heard as Elsa in Bayreuth’s Lohengrin last year, proved an equally captivating recitalist; Helmut Deutsch may need no introduction as a collaborative pianist, but his artistry should not be taken for granted either.
The first half was devoted to ten of Mahler’s Wunderhorn songs. Deutsch offered a wonderfully slow, teasing introduction to ‘Rheinlegendchen’, its lilt and indeed harmonies looking forward to Schoenberg’s Brettl-Lieder. Dasch set out her stall from the outset, making a great deal of the words, especially during the stanza in which we hear of the little gold ring being swallowed by a fish, to be served ‘at the King’s own table’. There followed a splendidly militaristic ‘Trost im Unglück’, prior to relaxation. Dasch presented two quite different ‘voices’ for the hussar and the girl; the latter’s ‘away with you; I have had my fill’ (‘Und geh’ du nur hin, Ich had mein Teil’) delivered through audibly clenched teeth. ‘Zu Straßburd auf der Schanz’ benefited from a highly atmospheric piano introduction, the Alphorn sounding through pedalled melancholy. Dissonances throughout the song, and again, noticeably in the later ‘Wo die schönen Trompeten blasen,’ sounded all the more biting in the sparseness of a piano ‘accompaniment’ than when heard in their more familiar orchestral guise. ‘Lied des Verfolgten im Turm’ offered another opportunity, well taken, for Dasch to distinguish between ‘characters’. The almost paradoxical phantasmagorical clarity of the piano part sounded verily Debussyan. A deeply felt ‘centre’ to the first half was afforded by both ‘Wo die schönen Trompeten blasen’ and the following ‘Urlicht’. The warmest of futile consolation was communicated in the former: ‘Willkommen, lieber Knabe mein, So long hast du gestanden.’ We knew that it would not last, long before its ghostly conclusion. ‘Urlicht’ offered a quite extraordinary sense of ‘revelation’, largely through that elusive ability to permit words and music to speak ‘for themselves’. Its ecstatic progress whetted the appetite for the rest of the Second Symphony, but instead it was to be followed by a sardonic, though occasionally shrill, account of ‘Wer hast dies Liedlein erdacht?’ The journey of ‘Ich ging mit Lust’ was lovingly and knowingly traced, that sense of knowingness certainly present also in the ensuing ‘Verlorne Müh’. Mahler’s inveterate sophistication showed through, as it should, even when the surface might seem ‘simple’. ‘Scheiden und Meiden’ rounded off the Wunderhorn selection, a properly ambivalent Mahlerian climax.
Zemlinsky’s songs made a welcome appearance at the beginning of the second half. His ‘Altdeutsches Minnelied’ proved more direct than Mahler’s songs, both in work and performance, though the piano part was certainly not without its subtle surprises. ‘Das bucklichte Männlein,’ a Wunderhorn song, comes harmonically from quite a different world, reflecting the chronological gap between the two songs: 1895-6 and 1934, respectively. The extraordinary latter song sounds as post-Schoenbergian as anything I have heard from Zemlinsky: a true discovery (at any rate for me). Dasch and Deutsch offered a superlatively animated performance, every note and every word being made to count. Dasch’s extraordinary vocal production for the final two lines, hushed and grotesque, truly chilled: ‘“Liebes Kindlien, ach, ich bitt, Bet’ für’s bucklicht Männlein mit!’” The hunchback – shades of Zemlinsky’s famed ugliness? – petitioned the child, as best he could, to pray for him too. ‘Entbietung’ and ‘Meeraugen’ are both Richard Dehmel settings from 1898. Both took us back to a Tristan-esque world, in which Dasch allowed her gifts as a hochdramatisch soprano full rein, the impulsive eroticism of the former leading into an exquisite account of the latter, seemingly well along the way, at least at times, toward suspension of tonality.
Such talk inevitably has one think of Schoenberg, to whom we turned for the next group. Another Wunderhorn song was to be heard with ‘Wie Georg von Frundsberg von sich selber sang’. It offered another apparent return to relative straightforwardness, but the piano part, especially in Deutsch’s hands, soon showed otherwise, its Brahmsian ‘involved’ quality so utterly characteristic of the composer. Dasch’s performance again drew upon her operatic experience, whilst remaining true to the tradition of Lieder-singing. It would be an excellent thing to hear more Schoenberg from these artists, preferably on disc too. ‘Warnung’ is another Dehmel song. It proved properly disquieting, its musical violence mirroring, furthering that of the text with its dog and ‘blood-red carnations’. ‘Mädchenlied’ proved as erotic as anything in Berg, its musical complexity both as work and performance drawing one similarly into a sinful labyrinth. ‘Der Wanderer’ showed itself to be the most overtly Tristan -esque of the Schoenberg songs, recalling Zemlinsky’s ‘Meeraaugen’, and yet going further, in its approach toward the air of another planet.
Though I find Korngold’s operas difficult to take – wild horses would not drag me back to another performance of Das Wunder der Heliane – there is real craftsmanship to enjoy in his songs. ‘Schneeglöckchen’ opened the group with an apt change of performative register: late Romanticism, or whatever we want to call it, yet thankfully not overheated. Deutsch in particular offered a fine sense of harmonic understanding and surprise. ‘Die Sperlinge’, another Eichendorff song, appeared in context almost as if a scherzo, albeit with a duly radiant conclusion, a true impression of ‘opening out’. The latter quality was present also in the following ‘Was Du mir bist’, though by now there was perhaps a little overheating: more a matter of work than performance. Likewise, by the end of ‘Mit Dir zu schweigen’, there was something of a sense of too much Jugendstil; something a little more Bauhaus-like would have been a good antidote. That said, performances were excellent; the final ‘Welt ist stille eingeschlafen’ offered musical as well as verbal consummation. As an encore we heard the Shakespeare setting, ‘My mistress’ eyes’ (Sonnet 130), whose ambivalent harmonic progress put me in mind both of the earlier Abschiedslieder and even the late F-sharp major Symphony. (Both of these pieces, incidentally, may be found on an excellent CD from the late Edward Downes.)