United Kingdom Schumann and Berg: Dorothea Röschmann (soprano), Dame Mitsuko Uchida (piano). Wigmore Hall, London, 5.5.2015 (MB)
Schumann – Liederkreis, op.39
Berg – Seven Early Songs
Schumann – Frauenliebe und –leben, op.42
The Eichendorff Liederkreis seems to become still more wonderful with every hearing. That is in large part, of course, a measure of its stature; however, in this case, I think it was also a measure of its performance. Dorothea Röschmann and Mitsuko Uchida gave a wonderful performance, as heart-rending as I have heard and probably more so than any I have heard with respect to the piano part. Uchida is universally recognised as a great Schumann pianist, yet even so, I was taken aback at how newly minted the music sounded. Every note had a purpose, yes, but the longer line, both within songs and with respect to the cycle as a whole was unerring. That was never at the expense of character, of incident; indeed, the relationship between moment and work could hardly have been better projected. Thus, for instance, the Bachian counterpoint of ‘Auf einer Burg’ offered up all manner of possibilities: pictorial (the castle and the ‘alte Ritter’), musico-historical, and connections with other Schumann works (the Arabeske, the Schumann works for pedal piano). Yet this was not in any sense a one-woman show. Dorothea Röschmann’s dramatic soprano ensured there was nothing of the drawing room to the performance. All manner of colours were employed, at the service of the text, yet in no sense hidebound thereby. Eeriness, sorrow, even occasional joy and ecstasy: all were present, all were vividly communicated. The sheer beauty of ‘Mondnacht’ had to be heard to be believed: I am tempted to say that Röschmann and Uchida more than gave Jonas Kaufmann and Helmut Deutsch a run for their money, although the comparison is doubtless meaningless. As Mahler’s early songs seemed to draw ever nearer in spirit, the concluding ‘Frülingsnacht’ reminded us that we remained in an earlier Romantic age, with concerns and rapture very much its own.
Moving to Berg in the second half, it was striking how much one heard of Schumann and Brahms, although these ‘early songs’ are by no means mere juvenilia. In the hands of such artists, though, such was context rather than overweening influence; there was no doubt that this was the ‘real thing’, nowhere more so than in the extraordinary, opening ‘Nacht’. Uchida’s treatment of Berg’s harmonies and their interaction with formal concerns – at this stage, he was almost entirely a song composer, perhaps presenting the prospect of a new Hugo Wolf – captured perfectly both their early twentieth-century ‘moment’ and the prospects of a Bergian future some at least of these gems genuinely offer. The use of the whole-tone scale in that first song, for instance, had it sound as radically voluptuous – or voluptuously radical – as I can recall. And twelve-note writing seemed not so very far away by the end. Röschmann expanded further the vocal palette on which she drew, or perhaps from which she could paint. Again, the balance struck between almost, but not quite, ‘operatic’ lines and detailed response to the words was admirable. I should love to hear her in more Berg.
It is doubtless too easy a claim to say that Frauenliebe und –leben benefited from two female artists; it benefited from excellent performances. And yet, gendered concerns can hardly be banished completely, given Adelbert von Chamisso’s text. What I can say is that the falling of the veil, the self-withdrawal of the closing ‘Nun hast du mir den ersten Schmerz getan’ pierced my heart more than I can recall. Uchida’s exquisite handling of the postlude was the final blow, of course, with abundant resonances from across the cycle and indeed beyond it. But that would have been nothing without earlier preparation, both in that final song and throughout the cycle. Röschmann conveyed excitement, contentment (a difficult task), joy, really everything for which she was asked. Once again, there was little distinction to make between the two parts: this was a true partnership, one I felt privileged to have heard. Yet, if only as a just consequence of the greater importance Schumann allotted to the piano part, not least structurally, it seemed that Uchida’s formal grip – and fantasy – led the way.
For a second opinion, see Geoff Diggenes’s review here