Simon Keenlyside and Malcolm Martineau: A Perceptive Partnership in Schubert

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Schubert: Simon Keenlyside (baritone), Malcolm Martineau (piano), Wigmore Hall, London, 31.1.2016. (CC)

Alinde, D904. Geheimes, D719. Seligkeit, D433. Refrainlieder, D866: No. 2, Bei dir allein!. Nachtstück, D677. Der Wanderer, D649. An den Mond in einer Herbstnacht, D614. Herbstlied, D512. Im Haine, D738. Im Walde, D708.

L’incanto degli occhi, D901/2. Pensa, che questo istante, D76. Der Jüngling und der Tod, D545. Strophe aus ‘Die Götter Griechenlands”, D677. Des Fischers Liebesglück, D933. Fischerlied, D351. Der Wanderer an den Mond, D870. Schwanengesang, D957: No. 7, Abschied

This recital fulfilled a dual function. It formed part of the ongoing Schubert The Complete Songs series at the Wigmore, and was also a Schubert birthday concert (January 31). It was good to see Simon Keenlyside on top form, with the ultra-sensitive pianist Malcolm Martineau as equal partner rather than just ‘accompanist’. The two men clearly sing from the same hymn sheet (if you see what I mean). The actual programme length was quite short but we did get a couple of encores, of which more later.

Simon Keenlyside’s selection of Schubert Lieder did not include many familiar songs: even Der Wanderer was “the other one”. The first song, Alinde, D904 is a lovely, lullaby-like barcarolle. It also demands a wide range from the singer, and Keenlyside had no problems in obliging. It also showed a Keenlyside trait: he absolutely owns the stage, and is unafraid of using the available space to full advantage, moving around freely. I did wonder if it was pre-planned in the way that trainers suggest speakers should use space when delivering a speech?. Whether so or not, it was unaffected and effective throughout. Certainly Geheimes, D719 was drizzled with gestures, but they illustrated rather than interrupted the charm of the Lied.

It was Martineau who charmed in the 1816 Seligkeit, D433. Fluent and beautifully judged, his comments and counterpoints to Keenlyside’s flowing phrases were simply delicious. One of four refrain songs, Bei dir allein! D866/2 found the ear once more drawn towards Martineau’s subtlety. But it was Nachtstück, D672 that brought out the best in both musicians. This 1819 nocturne slowly unfolded, the crescendo in the second stanza (a “quote” of an old man singing while accompanying himself on the harp) perfectly judged, and its textures in general laid bare – there is a remarkable passage for piano left-hand single line and voice. That “other” Wanderer, D649, took on a stillness in Keenlyside and Martineau’s reading which it rarely achieves; it led straight into An den Mond in einer Herbstnacht, D614, where the calm of the opening does get more troubled at the whispers of intimate lovers. Continuing the season theme, the charming portrait of Autumn, the brief Herbstlied, D501 seemed itself to call in Schlegel’s portrait of the forest in Im Walde, D708 – all credit to Martineau’s superb, rustling accompaniment here that depicts the unrest of the scene – via Im Haine, D738. Im Walde is one of the more extended of the songs presented here, and Keenlyside brought out all of its drama.

After the interval it was a nice idea to bring in some language contrast with two songs to Italian texts by Metastasio, L’incanto degli occhi, D902/1, with its decorated reprise, and Pensa, che questo istante, D76. Back to the deeper side of Schubert, though, with Der Jüngling und der Tod, D545, a setting that moves from gentleness to subterranean darkness; something of that slow infolding was present in Strophe aus ‘Die Götter Griechenlands”, D677.

One of the many joys of this Schubert series at the Wigmore is the discovery of new Schubert gems. One such was Des Fischers Liebesglück, D933, which was made so special by the sheer beauty of Keenlyside’s long cantabile lines. It was Martineau who shone in Die Sterne, D939, shaping the song beautifully despite the repetitive nature of the piano part.

Then something off happened. Keenlyside walked off stage after that song; it was clear this was not a planned break as Martineau was left there, exiting separately. Returning, Keenlyside apologised, but he would not be singing the rare Epistel, ‘An Herrn Josef von Spaun, Assesor in Linz, D749 (“it’s been a long time”, I think I caught from his explanation). That was a shame, but there seemed nothing amiss in the charming Fischerlied, D351. And the well-known Der Wanderer an den Mond, D870, had an easy flow. Finally, another well-known Lied: “Abschied” from Schwanengesang, given with a great sense of carefree joy, despite its title.

We heard two encores: both were by Wolf rather than by Schubert. The first, dedicated to Terry Wogan who had recently died (“he was part of our lives, wasn’t he?”, said Keenlyside): the dramatic “Lied von Winde” from the Möricke-Lieder. A song that could surely only be by Wolf; and followed by another song from Möricke-Lieder, “Um Mitternacht” a glorious moment of stillness to send us on our way.

The recital was recorded, so can we hope for this to emerge in Wigmore Live form? One hopes so …

Colin Clarke

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