Brahms and Liszt Lieder from Kirschlager and Thibaudet

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Brahms, Liszt: Angelika Kirschlager (mezzo-soprano), Jean-Yves Thibaudet (piano), Wigmore Hall, London, 20.1.2014 (CC)

Brahms:   Deutsche Volkslieder: Book IV, No. 25, Mein Mädel hat einen Rosenmund;
Book V,  No. 35, Soll sich der Mond nicht heller scheinen;
Book I, No. 6, Da unten im Tale;
Book II, No. 12, Feinsliebschen, du sollst mir nicht barfuss gehn.
Intermezzo in in A, Op. 118/2.
Meine Liebe ist grün, Op. 63/5.
Über die Heide, Op. 86/4.
Der Gang zum Liebchen,   Op. 48/1.
Nachtwandler, Op. 86/3.
Versunken, Op. 86/5.
O komme, holde                     
Sommernacht, Op. 58/4.
Therese, Op. 86/1.
Von ewiger Liebe, Op. 41/1.
Liszt:     Im Rhein, im schönen Strome, S272/2.
Vergiftet sind meiner Lieder, S289.
Über  allen Gipfeln ist Ruh’, S306/2.
Consolation No. 3 in D flat, S172.
Es war ein König in Thule, S278/2.
O lieb, so lang du lieben kannst!, S298/2.
Die drei Zigeuner, S320.
Der du von dem Himmel bist, S279.

Expectations were inevitably high, and seats filled, for a recital by two such first-rank artists. That the reality did not quite meet the expectation was a shame. This was an early-finishing concert (even given the fact it started a little late), yet the promise of Lieder by these two performing giants was enough to pretty much fill the hall.

The performers did not settle immediately, however. After a successful Mein Mädel hat einen Rosenmund, with a lovely sense of storytelling from Kirschlager, there was a false start to Soll sich der Mond nicht heller scheinen, surely the last thing anyone expected. Kirschlager took it all in her stride, laughing it off and it is true that the level of discomfort, for this listener at least, was minimised. But the event was indicative, perhaps, of the performers not quite settling in. Kirschlager’s liquid legato in the next song, Da unten im Tale acted as proper recompense. Throughout, Thibaudet had been self-effacing and delicate – as the accompaniments demand; both musicians dripped with character in the charming closing number of their folk bouquet, Feinsliebschen, du sollst mir nicht barfuss gehn.

Thibaudet was given a free hand for one number per half. For Brahms it was the famous A major Intermezzo from Op. 118. Tender and well projected, it yet failed to convey the last inch of connection between player and composer. There was something of a feeling of relief at the re-entrance of Kirschlager, especially given that she began her second group with the turbulent Meine Liebe ist grün. At last it felt as if we had arrived, and if Kirschlager’s voice is not as glowing in this song as, say, Jessye Norman’s in her prime, one felt at least the song had been honoured. Both players revelled in the bare, almost experimental writing of Über die Heide, and the almost Mahler-ish, hypnotic aspect to Der Gang zum Liebchen.

The programming of songs was faultless, with the tranquil Nachtwandler preceding the brief, outgoing Versunken. Perhaps the most intriguing song was Therese, a piece which teases in its brevity and contains so much. More identifiably “warm” Brahms is Von ewiger Liebe, which rose to a glowing, burnished climax.

Thibaudet had proved a more than able accompanist in the first part, but it was in Liszt he excelled. Many of the piano contributions are virtuosic in themselves, and Thibaudet delivered without ever attempting to outshine his soloist. His solo spot, the famous third Consolation, was miraculously touching, exhibiting a level of resonance with the composer that had been rather absent in the Brahms Intermezzo earlier.

The beautiful song Im Rhein, im schönen Strome held so many moments of magic and was indicative of the second half as a whole. Kirschlager’s breath control was exquisite. The gestural, almost operatic Vergiftet sind meine Lieder allowed both interpreters full rein; yet perhaps it was the hushed, simply gorgeous chord progressions of Über allen Gipfeln ist Ruh’ that were more memorable. The famous O lieb, so lang du lieben kannst (better known in its solo piano form, Liebestraum No. 3) showcased Kirschlager’s finely spun legato. Perhaps the finest song was Die drei Zigeuner, with its perfectly rendered cimbalom imitations from Thibaudet, its taxing virtuosity and its wonderful sense of narration.

The encore, Liszt’s Es muss win Wunderbares sein, with its lovely, sighing lines, seemed the perfect close to a rather mixed evening. The inclusion of the Liszt songs acted as a timely reminder that this often overlooked aspect of that composer’s output holds many rewards. And for that we should be grateful.

Colin Clarke