A Distinguished Recital from a Distinguished Partnership: Michael Volle and Helmut Deutsch

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Schubert, Mahler, Schumann, Clara Schumann, and Strauss: Michael Volle (baritone), Helmut Deutsch (piano). Wigmore Hall, London, 13.12.2013 (MB)

SchubertGreisengesang, D 778
Du bist die Ruh, D 776
Lachen und Weinen, D 777
Daß sie hier gewesen, D 775
Sei mir gegrüßt, D 741
SchumannWidmung, op.25 no.1
Der Himmel hat eine Träne geweint, op.37 no.1
Clara SchumannLiebst du um Schönheit, op.12 no.1
SchumannMein schooner Stern! op.101 no.4
Clara SchumannWarum willst du and’re fragen, op.12 no.3
SchumannAus den ‘Östlichen Rosen’, op.25 no.25
Zum Schluß, op.25 no.26
StraussVom künftigen Alter, op.87 no.1
Und dann nicht mehr, op.87 no.3
Im Sonnenschein, op.87 no.4


A wonderful recital of songs to texts by Friedrich Rückert, a recital about which I find it difficult to summon up the slightest reservation. (If I must, it would be the songs of Clara Schumann: as well performed as everything else, but of considerably lesser musical interest.) Michael Volle and Helmut Deutsch imparted a due sense of occasion to everything they did; even their dressing in evening tails, unusual for the Wigmore Hall, helped announce that this would be no ordinary evening.

The opening Schubert group showed no signs of limbering up, Volle’s voice and Deutsch’s fingers being perfectly primed from the off. Though an ‘accompanist’, Deutsch certainly does not sound like one; his part in the musical proceedings proving just as generative as that of Volle. There was real pianistic muscle, but just as telling was the voice-leading, not for its own sake (as one might sometimes experience with non-‘accompanist’ pianists), but as part of a collaborative response to text and music alike. Volle’s diction was perfect throughout, but more important was the sense that every word mattered; each one was not merely pronounced, but felt and communicated. And so, Schubert’s responses to Rückert could be experienced to a fullness we almost have no right to expect. Greisengesang chilled, Volle offering telling, unexaggerated rubato, at the end of a number of the stanzas. ‘Doch warm ist mir’s geblieben/Im Wohngemach’: the warmth of the parlour lingered ever so slightly in the mind – and in the bones. Rapture, yet specific rather than generalised, characterised Du bist der Ruh, whilst the repetitions of ‘Sei mir gegrüßt! Sei mir geküßt!’ in the final song of the group always brought something new, or at least seemed to do so. The winning, utterly Schubertian lilt could not be attributed solely to either Volle or Deutsch; this was a true partnership.

Mahler’s Rückert-Lieder followed. Deutsch’s account of the piano parts was such as almost to have one forget how much one (should have) missed the orchestra; it was only really in ‘Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen’ that I felt the odd pang in that respect, and that was certainly not the pianist’s doing. Again he showed equal command of both the alchemy of word and music, and of the more ‘purely’ musical devices, the sense of motivic development being especially strong. Not that there was any lack of atmosphere: the stillness – a cliché, doubtless, but none the less true for that – of ‘Um Mitternacht’ an equal tribute to the devotion of both artists. If there were odd occasions when Volle’s intonation slipped, they counted for almost nothing. What did count was the alliance of initial immediacy of expression and a mediated cultural hinterland; though the voices are very different, I thought more than once of Fischer-Dieskau at his best.

If Clara Schumann’s songs are never likely to change anyone’s life, they are competently written and pleasant enough. It is difficult to imagine them receiving stronger advocacy than here. Robert’s songs, on the other hand, offered all the magic and depth of feeling one could have hoped for. Cleverly selected and positioned, there was a true sense of development from ‘Widmung’ to ‘Zum Schluß’, with the songs by Clara at the very least reminding one of the true object of Robert’s affections. A radiance not unlike that earlier experienced in Du bist die Ruh was, quite rightly, the concluding sentiment, leading ‘naturally’ – which, in reality, is to say with an excellent level of preparation and performance – into the more operatic inspirations of Strauss. Volle drew upon all the dramatic gifts at his disposal – and they are many – to produce with Deutsch an almost scena-like intensity in Vom künftigen Alter. Simply managing to have one’s fingers navigate the notes is often no mean feat in these songs, but Deutsch penetrated to the soul, technique liberating the imagination. A typically equivocal sunshine – should it actually be sunset? – crowned a distinguished recital indeed.

Mark Berry

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