A Sense of the Dramatic in Kirschlager’s Tribute to Schubert

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Oxford Lieder Festival – The Schubert Project. Angelika Kirschlager (mezzo-soprano), James Sherlock (piano): Holywell Music Room, Oxford 29.10.2014. (CR)

An Silvia, D891
Am Bach im Frühling, D361
Fischerweise, D881
Gretchen am Spinnrade, D118
Rastlose Liebe, D138
Der Wanderer an den Mond, D870
Abschied, D475
Zwei Szenen aus dem Schauspiel ‘Lacrimas’ – Lied des Florio, D857
Der Vollmond strahlt, D797 no.3
Der Zwerg, D771
Frühlingsglaube, D686
Geheimes, D719
Seligkeit, D433
Erlafsee, D586
Vier Refrainlieder – ‘Bei dir allen!’, D866
Der Pilgrim, D794
Der Tod und das Mädchen, D531
Lachen und Weinen, D777
Versunken, D715
An die Musik, D547


Angelika Kirschlager is better known, and cultivates a more active career, as a singer of opera rather than lieder, so it is not surprising that she adopted a particularly dramatic approach to many of the songs in this programme, bringing out her versatile acting talents. For the more personal and intimate emotional world of such lieder, some may have found her singing somewhat mannered and distracting. But her dramatic and musical nuances were never more than the music could bear.

The variety of her responses was demonstrated in the highly contrasting juxtapositions encountered in the recital; for example, an impulsive, excited opening with An Silvia, followed by a warm and flowing account of Am Bach im Frühling, and then a jolly and light-hearted manner in Fischerweise, all in keeping with the poems concerned. Again, a fairly restrained intensity in Der Tod und das Mädchen (the song which Schubert would later use as the basis of the slow movement of his famous String Quartet) gave way to a ray of musical sunshine in the flighty Lachen und Weinen.

Sometimes Kirschlager projected her singing with a little too much force, where quietness and rapture would have been more telling, as in Abschied or the Lied des Florio. Here there was a tendency to swoop, and for the musical line to ebb and flow rapidly, as though it were palpitating.

Nevertheless, Kirschlager’s skill in interpreting many songs as though they were dramatic scenes in their own right was impressive;  for example, in the darkly brooding atmosphere of Der Zwerg, or the compelling drive sustained up to the climax of Gretchen am Spinnrade as Gretchen imagines ‘sein Kuss’ (‘his kiss’) followed by an arresting silence. Or where she exemplified an uncanny ability to combine different moods in one song, such as angst and levity at once in Rastlose Liebe.

James Sherlock proved just as accomplished in evoking a particular emotional world through idiomatic accompaniments which did not, however, upstage the singer. Frequently they served to attract the attention, but Sherlock ensured that he held it by maintaining the music’s momentum, whether that was through the rippling triplets of Am Bach im Frühling, the depiction of the spinning wheel in Gretchen am Spinnrade, or the hypnotic repeated notes of Frühlingsglaube which rather called to mind the famous Impromptu in G flat major. The almost giddy opening of Versunken appropriately set the scene of tantalising, amorous bliss in that song.

The closeness with which Sherlock and Kirschlager worked together was wittily confirmed in the encore. Kirschlager announced that she wanted to sing a ‘quite unknown song by Schubert’, whereupon Sherlock instantly struck up with the eddying flourishes of Die Forelle, to the amusement and delight of the audience. This was a charming end to a well-devised and executed recital.

Curtis Rogers

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