United Kingdom Brahms: Ann Murray (mezzo-soprano), Hanno Müller-Brachmann (bass-baritone), Malcolm Martineau (piano). Wigmore Hall, London, 13.1.2014 (MB)
Heimkehr, op.7 no.6;
In der Fremde, op.3 no.5;
Liebestreu, op.3 no.1.
Ständchen, op.14 no.7;
An eine Äolsharfe, op.19 no.5;
Der Gang zum Liebchen, op.48 no.1.
Wehe, so willst du mich wieder, op.32 no.5;
Wie bist du, meine Königin, op.32 no.9;
Keinen hat es noch gereut, op.33 no.1;
Sind es Schmerzen, op.33 no.3;
Am Sonntag Morgen, op.49 no.1;
Die Mainacht, op.43 no.2;
An die Nachtigall, op.46 no.4;
Von ewiger Liebe, op.43 no.1.
Auf dem See, op.59 no.2;
Regenlied, op.59 no.3;
Ach, wende diesen Blick, op.57 no.4;
Meine Liebe ist grün, op.63 no.5.
Therese, op.86 no.1;
Mit vierzig Jahren, op.94 no.1;
Sapphische Ode, op.94 no.4;
Kein Haus, keine Heimat, op.94 no.5;
Schön war, das ich dir weihte, op.95 no.7;
Auf dem Kirchhofe, op.105 no.4;
Mädchenlied, op.107 no5.
Wie komm’ ich den zur Tür herein;
So wünsch’ ich ihr ein’ gute Nacht;
Denn es gehet dem Menschen wie dem Vieh, op.121 no.1;
Wenn ich mit Menschen- und mit mit Engelzungen redete, op.121 no.4.
I am ashamed to say that I was unaware of this series, ‘Songlives’, the brainchild of Malcolm Martineau, until the present concert. Each instalment attempts to show the development of a song-composer throughout the entirety of his career. With Brahms, this worked very well. Indeed, though much was, of course, missing, there was little or no sense of glaring omission, and a proper sense of narrative progression, not least since the programme was organised under six headings: ‘The early years,’ ‘Neue Bahnen’, ‘First Maturity’, ‘Established in Vienna’, ‘The last twenty years’, and ‘At the end’. Martineau was joined by two fine artists: Hanno Müller-Brachmann and, replacing Bernada Fink, Ann Murray. The former was on typically rich-voiced form, whilst the latter’s patent sincerity and generosity of delivery amply compensated for any loss of vocal bloom.
The recital opened with Heimkehr, Brahms’s first extant song. (Notoriously self-critical, Brahms destroyed a frightening number of earlier and indeed later works.) Though published in 1854, it was composed in 1851, and, according to Susan Youens’s informative booklet note, is only twenty-one bars long. Though the predominant mood is of agitation, Müller-Brachmann nevertheless achieved considerable subtlety of shading. The next song, an Eichendorff setting, In der Fremde, fell to Murray, the singers alternating for quite a while. A sense of Heimweh offered welcome contrast with the first song; likewise the grave simplicity of the following Der Überlaufer and the dark Romanticism of Liebestreu. Opening the second section, Müller-Brachmann’s – and Martineau’s – Ständchen proved nicely anticipatory, even though we all knew and/or sensed that hopes would be dashed. Brahms himself was the star of An eine Äolfsharfe, the ravishing harmony on ‘melodische Klage’ – a melodious lament indeed – quite taking one’s breath away, though Martineau should of course also take credit for its communication. The post-Schubertian quality of Der Gang zum Liebchen was well captured by Murray.
We then entered ‘First maturity’, allotted at first to Müller-Brachmann. The Platen setting, Wehe, so willst du mich wieder, was turbulent in mood yet benefited throughout from clarity of piano line. Müller-Brachmann’s melting vocal delivery of the Hafiz translation, Wie bist du, meine Königin, was very much a high-point of the recital, bringing the odd tear to these eyes. Keinen hat es noch gereut was vividly pictorial, Tieck’s nimble steed (Roß) springing to life before our ears. The same poet’s Sind es Schmerzen received a setting and performance again haunted by the spirit of Schubert, albeit with typical Brahmsian ‘lateness’, a word that came to mind again and again, despite – or, on some occasions, even on account of – the strophic quality of a number of his songs. Murray’s Am Sonntag Morgen received a subtly ambiguous, subtly knowing performance: never overdone, but nevertheless aware. Die Mainacht was beautifully hushed, pregnant, with a brief vocal blooming upon the doves’ cooing. An die Nachtigall and Von ewiger Liebe were also Murray’s, the former benefiting especially from Martineau’s telling, unexaggerated delivery of piano syncopations, whilst the former offered a strange yet familiar marriage between tradition and alienated modernity that was very much Brahms’s own.
The singers shared ‘Established in Vienna’, following the interval, Murray opening with Auf dem See. Müller-Brachmann responded with Regenlied, not the text indicated in the programme, but Brahms’s op.59 no.3, from which he hauntingly quotes in the first violin sonata. The involved writing of Ach, wende diesen Blick, sounded very much of Brahms’s maturity, Murray’s Meine Liebe ist grün a touching pendant from Felix Schumann.
Murray’s Therese was the first from the ‘last twenty years’ group, followed by the anything-but-cheery Rückert setting, Mit vierzig Jahren, Müller-Brachmann’s rich tone an especial boon upon such melancholy terrain. Murray’s Sapphische Ode not only charmed but moved; her Schön war, das ich dir weihte a plangent contrast with the brief fury of her partner’s Kein Haus, keine Heimat. High Romanticism, or rather Late High Romanticism, was once again the order of the day in Auf dem Kirchhofe, to which Murray’s Mädchenlied offered winning contrast. Both singers were employed in each of the three ensuing folksong settings: beautifully judged, with inevitable glances forward towards Mahler, despite the difference in style. Schwesterlein in particular emerged as decidedly ‘late’, an evocation of childhood that was haunted indeed. Müller-Brachmann’s two songs from the Vier ernste Gesänge were powerful yet restrained, Brahms’s apparently timeless archaism in reality anything but. Dark echoes of Ein deutsches Requiem led us to ultimate consolation – of sorts. Much the same could be said of the folksong and ‘lullaby’ encores with which this enlightening recital came to a close.