United Kingdom Schubert: The Prince Consort [Anna Leese (soprano) Rowan Hellier (mezzo-soprano) Nicholas Mulroy (tenor) Jacques Imbrailo (baritone)] / Alisdair Hogarth (artistic director/piano), Wigmore Hall 04.07.14 (RB)
The Prince Consort presented some of Schubert’s most famous and best loved songs for this Schubertiade together with a number of his lesser known works for piano with various vocal combinations.
Anna Leese was first to perform with Gretchen am Spinnrade which was one of the composer’s earliest masterpieces and the first of the evening’s Goethe settings. Alisdair Hogarth did an excellent job depicting the insistent mesmeric whirr of the ever present spinning wheel. Leese brought considerable vocal power and a burning passion to the text and I loved her handling of the modulations in the sixth stanza. I was not quite convinced that she quite captured the sense of unease and disquiet that haunts Gretchen. Leese passed the baton to Nicholas Mulroy for Rastlose Liebe. Hogarth and Mulroy captured the sense of restlessness that permeates the song although the balance was not quite right. Jacques Imbrailo produced the first highlight of the evening with his performance of An den Mond where he brought a silky sensuousness to the vocal line. Rowan Hellier’s diction was excellent in Heidenröslein and she brought a light, folk simplicity to the song that was spot on. Hogarth and Imbrailo finished the first selection of songs by giving a stunning performance of Erlkönig. Hogarth reminded us of his virtuoso credentials with his handling of the right hand octaves while at the same time bringing considerable intensity and a wide range of dynamics to the piano part. Imbrailo brought the drama thrillingly to life and I particularly liked his characterisation of Erlkönig which was seductive and alluring while at the same time being sinister and dangerous.
Leese and Mulroy kicked off the next set of songs with Licht und Liebe. They brought an easy lyrical flow and sweetness to the text and the sound was blended perfectly. In Ganymed I loved the quintessentially Viennese charm which Hogarth brought to the piano writing and the way in which he and Rowan Hellier brought out the sense of urgency and ecstatic quality in the final stanzas. Jacques Imbrailo’s rendition of An die Musik was meltingly beautiful and I particularly loved the way in which he injected a sense of heartache in the final line of each stanza. Hogarth captured the rippling rivulets of the stream perfectly in Die Forelle whileLeese produced a strong vibrant sound that generally worked well although the tone sounded a little forced in places and I wondered if she could have made a little more of the story depicted in the poem. The first half finished with Kantate zum Geburtstag des Sängers Johann Michael Vogl for piano, soprano, tenor and baritone which Schubert wrote to celebrate the great singer’s birthday. It received a very polished performance from the Prince Consort bringing the first half of the concert to a triumphant close.
Leese and Hogarth opened the second half with a gorgeous rendition of Schubert’s two Suleika songs. I loved the rhythmic buoyancy and bustle which Hogarth brought to the piano part in the second song while Leese did a wonderful job taking us on the complex emotional journeys depicted in the poems. Hogarth and Mulroy brought an unfettered exuberance to Der Musensohn while Imbrailo brought the drama of Der Zwerg – a ghoulish poem depicting sexual obsession – vividly to life. Both Hogarth and Hellier gave us some exquisite shaping of the line in Auf dem Wasser zu singen and there were gorgeous changes in tone colour used to enhance the enharmonic changes at the end of each stanza. Hogarth and Mulroy succeeded in finding the still beating heart of Du bist die Ruh – surely one of Schubert’s most beautiful songs – while Mulroy’s handling of the emotional climax to each of the stanzas was sensitive and heartfelt.
The very high quality of the music making continued in the final set of songs. All of the singers joined Hogarth for Gebet which Schubert wrote for the Esterhazy family in 1824. There was an excellent blend of textures and colours in a nicely coordinated piece of ensemble singing. Hellier gave us a glorious rendition of Die junge Nonne charting our way through the emotional vicissitudes of the poem before the eponymous protagonist achieves a final sense of spiritual consolation. Fischerweise was the highlight of the second half for me both in terms of Hogarth’s superb articulation and Leese’s light and spirited approach to the vocal line and her artful characterisation of the poem (I particularly liked the reference to the sly minx on the bridge in the final stanza). The recital concluded with Im Frühling which deals with the theme of unrequited love and self delusion. Mulroy allowed Schubert’s bewitchingly beautiful melody to unfold simply and naturally while the final two stanzas brought out the underlying sadness at the heart of the poem – a poignant note to end on and highly appropriate for a Schubertiade.
Overall, this was an evening of superior musicianship and high quality music making from one of the most talented group of lieder recitalists around.