Kirchschlager and Drake Conclude Wigmore Hall’s Complete Schubert Lieder Survey

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Schubert, The Complete Songs (Final Concert): Angelika Kirchschlager (mezzo-soprano); Julius Drake (piano). Wigmore Hall, London, 31.1.2018. (CC)

Schubert – ‘Namenstaglied’, D695; ‘Frühlingsglaube’, D686b; ‘Geheimes’, D719; ‘Im Frühling’, D882; ‘Bei dir allein!’, D866/2; ‘Lambertine’, D301; ‘Am Bach im Frühling’, D361; ‘Ganymed’, D544; ‘Wiegenlied’, D867; ‘In der Mitternacht’, D464; ‘Erlkönig’, D43; ‘Gesang der Norne’, D831; ‘Der liebliche Stern’, D861; ‘Romanza zum Drama “Rosamunde”’, D797/3b; ‘Suleika I’, D710; ‘Suleika II’, D717; ‘An den Mond’, D259; ‘Der Jüngling an der Quelle’, D300; ‘Der Wanderer an den Mond’, D870; ‘Der Unglückliche’, D713 ;’Lied des Florio’, D857/2; ‘Abschied von der Erde’, D829; ‘Wiegenlied’, D498 (encore)

And so, on Schubert’s birthday (his 221st), we came to the end of the Wigmore Hall’s Liedreise, an extended journey through the complete Schubert songs. If this final entry in the journal was perhaps not one might have hoped, one has to acknowledge the ambition of this multi-singer, multi-pianist series.

It seems less than fitting to the occasion that the rather poorly-prepared programme contained an error which confused at least some of the audience. The clue, in retrospect, was actually on the programme booklet cover: only one song was given a Deutsch number there, the ‘Wiegenlied’, D498, indicating perhaps a last-minute insertion (one assumes this is what the Wigmore website referred to as a “change from previously advertised”). In fact, we did not get D498 in the main body of the recital itself at all, we got the ‘Wiegenlied’ D867 (the texts are different, hence the confusion). D498 was, in fact, to be the encore.

It was good to see the hall packed; but there was the feeling that not everything was settled; maybe the programme change was a symptom of that malaise? Julius Drake’s contribution to ‘Erlkönig’, which ended the first half of the concert, found those infamous triplet octaves of the opening remarkably undefined, while the perhaps equally famous song ‘Ganymed’ failed to make its full mark because Drake did not prepare the climax thoroughly (there was also the feeling that Drake had been rather anonymous at the opening of this song).

The actual songs chosen were the usual satisfying mix of the familiar and the less so, and one should acknowledge that there was plenty to enjoy overall. I was glad to hear the little-known ‘Namenstaglied’ of 1820 with its quasi-improvised piano opening; this offered an opportunity to enjoy Kirschlager’s fruity mid-range. ”Frühlingsglaube is far better known of course, and found Drake at his most gentle. One expected gentleness for ‘Im Frühling’, but actually taking the song slower than one might expect acknowledged deeper layers inherent in the music. It was good programming to follow that with the fast and capricious ‘Bei dir allein’ (the second of the four Refrainlieder, D866.)

It was wonderful to experience the wide-ranging song ‘Libertine’, D301 though, with its adventurous harmonic shifts (the range also took Kirchschlager to the lower parts of her register, beautifully delivered). The crepuscular, bare octave opening of ‘In der Mitternacht’ led into one of the highlights of the evening, the second stanza finding Kirchschlager with excellent legato over a bed of piano sound from Drake. A pity that the ”Erlkönig was tainted by a clear difference between pianist and singer; Drake was discussed above, but Kirchschlager found great vocal colour here to differentiate the various voices of father, son and Erlkönig.

The second half held similar variety both in song and in performance. Kirchschlager seemed less than confident in the Romance from Rosamunde and ‘Suleika II’ was a little messy pianistically, whereas ‘Suleika I’ held a wonderful sense of breathless anticipation at its opening and ‘Der Wanderer an den Mond’ found Drake in good form whereas Kirchschlager felt less sure. The wonderfully crespuscular serenade ‘Lied des Florio’, D857/2 led to the spoken poem over piano accompaniment ‘Abschied von der Erde’, this last splendidly read by Kirchschlager.

Despite a bit of a bumpy ride over the last hurdle of this particular journey, this concert does mark the end of a series that has brought much joy to many. The opening concert, back in September 2015 with Florian Bosch and Graham Johnson (whose programme began with Schubert’s D1a ‘Liebestraum’) was covered by myself here.

Colin Clarke

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