A Truly Fine Evening of Song with Tenor Mauro Peter in Zurich

SwitzerlandSwitzerland Schubert, Rihm, Poulenc: Mauro Peter (tenor), Helmut Deutsch (piano), Zürich Opernhaus, Zurich, 4.2.2016. (RP)

Mauro Peter © Franziska Schrödinger

Schubert: “Der Sänger,” “Sehnsucht,” “Rastlose Liebe,” “Meeres Stille,” “Wandrers Nachtlied II,” “Der Fischer,” “Der König in Thule,” “Erlkönig”

Rihm: Lenz-Fragmente for Tenor and Piano

Poulenc: Tel jour telle nuit

Schubert: “Ganymed,” “Versunken,” “Geheimes,” “An die Entfernte,” “Willkommen & Abschied”

This was everything that a song recital should be. Swiss tenor Mauro Peter approaches a recital seriously, but in the best sense of the word. He is a tenor, no mistake about that, taking obvious delight in his honey-hued voice, and just a bit proud of how well he turns out in white tie and tails. His winning smile is ever-present. With such gifts, perhaps most impressive were his uncommonly elegant legato, his sense of line, and the elegant phrasing that marked his singing throughout. This was all put into service in a carefully constructed program which he sang from memory. An added luxury was the appearance of Helmut Deutsch at the piano. It all combined for a truly fine evening of song.

Peter’s voice took a while to settle into the program. There were a few minor technical glitches throughout, which are only worth commenting upon because they seemed to take him as much by surprise as they did the listener, but without cause for alarm. He took a chance in moving without pause from Schubert’s “Rastlose Liebe” to “Meeres Stille,” as the two songs could not be more different. The former is fast, as the word restless in the title suggests, and sits higher in the voice; the latter lies at the bottom of his range with long, sustained tones invoking the calm sea. Peter managed the shift, but it took visible concentration. His warm, rich lower range was shown to far better advantage in Poulenc’s “Une roulette couverte en tuiles.” It was smooth sailing after “Meeres Stille”; and “Wandrers Nachtlied II,” which followed, was just beautiful.

Deutsch’s introduction to “Erlkönig” was roiling, dark and menacing, perhaps more effectively capturing the sense of urgency and impending doom in the father’s futile race through the woods than I have ever heard before. Peter created fine characterizations of the frantic father and terrified child, but the most vivid was that of the Erlkönig, with a menacing glint in his eyes, leer on his face and a chill in his voice. No song suited him better than did “Ganymed,” that marvelous telling of the youth’s ascent to Olympus when summoned by Zeus. Its buoyancy was in one with Peter’s own high spirits.

Sandwiched between the two sets of Schubert songs were Wolfgang Rihm’s Lenz-Fragmente and Francis Poulenc’s Tel jour telle nuit. Jakob Michael Reinhold Lenz was a late-18th-century Baltic German writer who led a troubled life and was found dead on a Moscow street at the age of 41. Composed in 1980, Rihm’s piece sets five of Lenz’s poems to music with a cut-glass clarity that complements the spare, stark texts. “An die Sonne,” the longest of the songs, is declamatory in nature, with the vocal line interrupted by menacing descending chords in the accompaniment. Peter’s clear articulation and sense of line were evident in this song. The Poulenc, dating from the 1930s, was dispatched with the requisite insouciance and sensitivity. “Une herbe pauvre,” in particular, permitted Peter to display his light, lovely head tones. Heard in this context, with these artists, Poulenc and Rihm are a continuation of the song tradition that began with Schubert. There was no sense of modern versus romantic, just the perfect pairing of words and music.

Peter offered up three encores. The first, Schubert’s “Heidenröslein,” was utterly charming with Deutsch playing from memory with a warm smile on his face. A charming French mélodie was followed by Peter expressing his great pleasure at performing for an audience in his own country. His final encore was Schubert’s setting of “Schweizerlied,” Goethe’s playful poem in rudimentary Swiss German. Now it was the audience’s turn to smile and nod their heads in enjoyment. It was great fun.

Peter is from Lucerne, an hour’s train ride away from Zurich. Perhaps it was the cold and wet that kept the Zurchers at home, and more’s the pity. Over the past 15 years or so, Zurich audiences have had the privilege of watching  a number of tenors develop into world-class singers. Fingers crossed that Mauro Peter joins their ranks in due time. Meanwhile, he is a young talent to watch, and I look forward to hearing him in Henry Purcell’s King Arthur in just a few weeks. 

Rick Perdian