A generous and resourceful Janáček, Schumann and Brahms programme overcomes Covid disruption

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Janáček, Schumann, and Brahms: Tanja Tetzlaff (cello), Isabelle Vogt (narrator), Julian Prégardien (tenor), Lars Vogt (piano). Wigmore Hall, London, 26.1.2022 (MB)

Lars Vogt at the Wigmore Hall

Janáček – Pohádka
Schumann – Two Ballads, Op.122; Liederkreis, Op.39
Brahms – Cello Sonata No.1 in E minor, Op.38
Schumann – Dichterliebe, Op.48

Hasty programme reorganisation proved necessary when another musician, violinist Christian Tetzlaff, fell victim to the dread virus. An all-Schumann programme, including one of the piano trios, became a feast of Janáček, Schumann, and Brahms; if one regretted the loss of such careful, thoughtful planning, it would have been difficult to feel short-changed by so generous and resourceful a new programme. Janáček’s Pohádka, for cello and piano, made for a splendid intrada from Tanja Tetzlaff and Lars Vogt. Tension and its increase were finely gauged in an account as lyrical as it was lively, quite without sentimentality. Composer’s and performers’ eloquence imparted an impression, as so often with Janáček, of heightened, even at times ecstatic, speech.

An absorbing account of Schumann’s rarely heard Two Ballads followed, Isabelle Vogt a gripping passionate narrator. It was easy to imagine her recounting these tales around a crackling winter fire, the second, ‘Die Flüchtlinge’ (Shelley, in translation), the more evidently musical a work, daemonic in a manner close to that of the young Brahms. Julian Prégardien then joined Lars Vogt for Schumann’s Liederkreis, Op.39. It was instructive to hear the varying balance between singer and pianist, the latter sometimes holding back somewhat, so as to make his fuller presence, as in the second song, ‘Intermezzo’, felt in heightened fashion. In the opening ‘In der Fremde’, by contrast, it was Prégardien’s imploring lyricism that introduced, that set the scene and led us by the hand. There were many transformations of mood, even of persona, as for the elfin ‘Die Stille’, the aptly silver-toned ‘Mondnacht’, or the unsettling half-lights of ‘Zwielicht’, its colours, shadows, and patterns seemingly the bedrock of music, words, and their fusion. Prégardien and Vogt could be declamatory too, as in ‘Im Walde’. The ghostly stillness of ‘Auf einer Burg’ took us back to the storytelling of the Op.122 Ballads: canny programming and performance.

In the second half, Dichterliebe opened not dissimilarly, Prégardien touching in the sincerity of his longing, Vogt etching the piano frame for the tenor’s ardent memories and intentions, leading inevitably to the breathlessness of ‘Die Rose, die Lilie, die Taube, die Sonne’. When, in the following, ‘Wenn ich in deine Augen she’, the protagonist was moved to declare, ‘Doch wenn du sprichst: Ich liebe dich!’ the moment’s infinitely touching nature was felt as such not least because it had been so well prepared. The piano postlude, of course, said just as much. There were sterner moments, for instance in the first stanza of ‘Im Rhein, im heiligen Strome’. The close of ‘Ich grolle nicht’ showed Prégardien unafraid not to sound beautiful, Heine’s serpent gnawing at his heart. Ghostly, well-nigh Mahlerian irony in ‘Das ist ein Flöten und Geigen’ and ‘Ein Jüngling liebt ein Mädchen’ was unmistakeable, as was an Innigkeit born of Schubert, yet ultimately quite different, in the intervening ‘Hör ich das Liedchen klingen’. The dangers of Schumann’s musico-poetic world, anything but Biedermeier, were not only apparent but experienced. As we reached the close in the mood swings of ‘Die alte, bösen Lieder’, we had learned much, properly chilled. We felt it had meant something — as, assuredly, did the encore, Schubert’s Schwanengesang ‘Ständchen’.

In between the two song cycles, Tetzlaff and Vogt gave us Brahms’s First Cello Sonata. The first movement spoke, not entirely unlike Janáček had, with a rhetorical eloquence that confirmed Mendelssohn’s adage about music expressing things not too indefinite, but too definite, for words. Balance and direction were finely judged, so much so as rarely to be noticed in themselves. It was dark but with many shades, modernist as well as Romantic, travelling a finely constructed emotional arc. The second movement was captivating in its courtliness; it is marked, after all, ‘quasi menuetto’. It benefited from a delightful lyricism that knew not to push, not to exaggerate, which in turn contrasted with raw, passionate irascibility for the finale, abjuring cleanness where necessary for something more immediate, even primal. But it was a movement of many contrasts; that was only its opening. It could equally be subtle too. Most important, there were no easy answers.

Mark Berry

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