Wolf’s Mörike-Lieder from Oliemans and Eijsackers were exhilarating, enervating even, in Oxford

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Oxford International Song Festival 2023 [4] – Wolf: Thomas Oliemans (baritone), Hans Eijsackers (piano). Holywell Music Room, Oxford 24.10.2023. (CR)

Thomas Oliemans (baritone) and Hans Eijsackers (piano).

Wolf – Mörike-LiederDer Jäger; Lied eines Verliebten; Begegnung; Nimmersatte Liebe; Der Tambour; Fussreise; In der Frühe; Um Mitternacht; An den Schlaf; An eine Äolsharfe; Der Feuerreiter; Heimweh; Im Frühling; An die Geliebte; Peregrina I; Peregrina II; Auf einer Wanderung

The usual, first slot of the Oxford International Song Festival’s evening recitals was cut in this case, owing to the relevant emerging artist (to whom it is given over) being indisposed at short notice. So that left the stage entirely to Thomas Oliemans and Hans Eijsackers (the latter replacing Malcolm Martineau) in their selection of seventeen songs from Wolf’s Mörike-Lieder. Such a hefty programme and performances from them were exhilarating, enervating even, and an interval would have been welcome amidst the dramatic changes of mood and pace, starting out with a trio which treated particularly tempestuous experiences of romantic love. Although uncompromisingly powerful and excitable, Oliemans marked their humour astutely at the right moment towards the end of each in almost a throwaway gesture, though Eijsackers remained focused and determined.

The temperament of the settings changed course a little for the more yearning quality of Nimmersatte Liebe, Oliemans emphasising certain important syllables to point up this song’s general musing upon the nature of love, which only incidentally and briefly brings into view a specific object of affection. But Der Tambour remained perhaps too strenuous for its wry humour, only drawing back at its end; and in some other songs which followed, more contrast would have been effective.

More reflective or intense settings remained quite highly strung in their forceful delivery, rather than relaxing into any sense of quieter intimacy. Taken by itself the performance of any one of such songs would have registered as impressive in its urgency, but the numerous sequence of items here perhaps became too much of a good thing, notwithstanding shifting colours from Eijsackers on the piano. Among those that certainly should be singled out as coming over best were Um Mitternacht insofar as Oliemans sang more steadily over the unceasing oscillations of the accompaniment; and the more sensitively sustained line of An eine Äolsharfe. Eijsackers drew a cautious, mysterious atmosphere in An den Schlaf, where the accompaniment is partly developed out of a little upward, questioning figure that is rather like the unresolved leitmotif usually denoted as ‘Fate’ in Die Walküre.

Oliemans’s cheerful, whimsical official ending with Auf einer Wanderung was followed by two eponymous farewells or Abschiede for an encore: first, the final setting of the same collection by Wolf, boisterous but witty and almost acted out; the second, Schubert’s song, D475, offering the one welcome sense of repose and contentment in the whole recital.

Curtis Rogers

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