Austria Schumann Liederabend: Christian Gerhaher (baritone), Gerold Huber (piano), Mozarteum, Salzburg, 8.8.2013 (JFL)
R.Schumann: Sechs Gesänge op.107, Dichterliebe op.48, Der arme Peter op.53
+ Lieder & Gesänge aus:
Wilhelm Meister op.98a (“Ballade des Harfners”, “Wer nie sein Brot…”, “Wer sich der Einsamkeit…”, “An die Türen will ich schleichen”), Spanisches Liederspiel op.74 (“Melancholie”), Spanische Liebeslieder op.138 (“Tief im Herzen trag’ ich Pein”), Romanzen & Balladen op.64 (“Tragödie”), Drei Gesänge op.83 (“Der Einsiedler”)
Chances of a recital with Christian Gerhaher and Gerold Huber being special are higher than for just about any other recital or concert. “Just about 100%” Jay Nordlinger suggested before heading up the stairs of the Mozarteum to hear the Salzburg Festival’s Gerhaher/Huber recital (the exact same program and encores as in Munich, a few weeks before) on August 8th. That’s perhaps an even more optimistic number than I might have suggested, but within the limits of rhetoric exaggeration he’s right on. There’s simply a very special quality to Christian Gerhaher’s singing—especially when partnered by the equally inspired pianist Gerold Huber—that makes failure to impress a very remote possibility. Indeed, I’ve not yet heard him live and was disappointed… including this occasion—so maybe Nordlinger wasn’t exaggerating, after all.
All-Schumann was the program, with Dichterliebe at the center and a selection of the darkest stuff—“Gruftmusik”—that Gerhaher could find in Schumann’s output surrounding it: all in accordance with his unofficial Lied-motto “the darker the better”. What Bernard Haitink said about Gustav Mahler applies, albeit differently, to Christian Gerhaher: He’s got a talent for suffering. But if there’s a notion of self-pity, anxiety, and lack of confidence in this remark as applied to Mahler, with Gerhaher it has overtones of stoicism and very plainly an ability to empathize with suffering in the art of others. That he still suffered a bit after treatment of a herniated disc gave his lyrical and textual suffering a physical dimension—taking a seat on a double bass chair for the longer piano-interludes and waddling onto and off stage like a unwell penguin. Then again, it didn’t look all that different from his usual look of slightly disheveled discomfort on stage.
R.Schumann, Dichterliebe, Der Arme Peter et al.,
C.Gerhaher / G.Huber
R.Schumann, Melancholie et al.,
C.Gerhaher / G.Huber
What made the first half of Six Songs op.107 and the Dichterliebe special was his way with words, the way Gerhaher can drop into a peculiar kind of Sprechgesang at the click of a key by Huber… a unique way of taking the volume out of a phrase. Ditto the daringly dynamic bandwidth, which went from hushed, pale tones to full-strength anguish, full of open violence here, suppressed anger there, and every nuance and shade in between. Especially in the demanding, harrowing “Ich grolle nicht” this pays dividends, since Gerhaher is believable in these emotions, and not prone to hamming it up.
Gerhaher’s painful perfectionism had himself excused, before the second half, for maybe not sounding as he’d like to, due to being under the weather. There was, alas, no audible sign of a sub-par performance. He sung his way through 13 more songs, among them “Who never ate his bread with tears”, “Who gives himself to loneliness” (from Lieder & Gesänge, op.98a), “Melancholy” (op.74/6), “The pain in my breast” (from the no longer simple but suddenly disturbing Der arme Peter, op.53), “The Grief deep in my heart” (op.138/2), “Tragedy” (op.64/3, leached of color and with Huber so vivid that I should have liked to hear a Huber-only recital immediately following this Liederabend), “The Hermit” (op.83/3) and other cheery ditties. Then Gerhaher suggested that while, true, he may have felt a bit off, not quite so off that he couldn’t throw in two encores: “Stille Liebe” and “Still Tränen” they were, and he tore through them with unsuspected vigor—changing my mind just after I thought that the last note of the dark and lonely atmosphere of “The Hermit” should really be the final word of a gloomily satisfying recital of the impeccable, symbiotic Gerhaher/Huber Lied Duo.