United Kingdom Schubert: Christian Gerhaher (baritone), Gerold Huber (piano). Wigmore Hall, London, 1.12.2022 (MB)
Schubert – Sei mir gegrüsst, D 741; Dass sie hier gewesen, D 775; Lachen und Weinen, D 777; Du bist die Ruh, D 776; Greisengesang, D 778; Schwanengesang, D 957
This memorable Schubert from Christian Gerhaher and Gerold Huber opened with five settings of Friedrich Rückert, well-chosen and ordered. Sei mir gegrüsst’s opening piano lilt was taken up just as keenly by Gerhaher, signalling a meeting of musical minds and practice. From the very outset, one might readily have taken dictation, verbal and musical, so clear was every aspect of the performance, that clarity never a goal in itself but means to an expressive end. Unity and variation in an initially strophic setting that then sets out along new paths were equally apparent, inspiring and comforting in similar measure. The almost Lisztian sensibility of Dass sie hier gewesen offered nice contrast, the set’s culmination in a declamatory, richly expressive Greisengesang calling Fischer-Dieskau to mind. No more than anywhere else, though, did one size fit all, a silvery, surprisingly tenor-like reading of Du bist die Ruh finely complemented by Huber’s voicing of harmony and counterpoint.
Seven Schwanengesang settings of Ludwig Rellstab took us to the interval. The ‘Bächlein’ of ‘Liebesbotschaft’ set the scene and underlay it, in figurative as well as locational terms. A deeply touching ‘Kriegers Ahnung’ took in several moods, not least the proto-Wagnerian; likewise, the later ‘In der Ferne’, its world-weariness prefiguring Wagner’s Dutchman, the final stanza deeply — in more than one sense — ambiguous, whispering breezes performing their magic whichever way they or fate chose. Gerhaher’s ardent ‘Ständchen’ really felt like a serenade, in essence and progress, ‘Aufenthalt’ a tragic pendant from the world of Winterreise. The pounding of the protagonist’s heart as the high treetops swayed in the wind had us feel altitude and grief alike. ‘Abschied’, the last of the set, effected after ‘In der Ferne’ a perfect transformation of mood, in a reading both animated and detailed, yet never remotely fussy.
Six Heine settings followed the interval. A darkly resolute ‘Der Atlas’ offered a fascinating study in pride. ‘Ihr Bild’ proved duly haunting, nothing taken for granted, the miracles of Schubertian modulation heard as if for the first time; likewise, the composer’s major/minor oscillation. Prefiguring ‘Die Stadt’ and its chill wind, we found ourselves once again emphatically post-Winterreise. ‘Der Doppelgänger’ went further still, as it must, technically in its ghostly withdrawal of vibrato and much else, yet also emotionally in its defiance. This, quite properly, marked the climax to the entire recital. After that, ‘Die Taubenpost’ worked its charms to perfection, a delightful, lingering goodbye.