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A outstanding Oxford Leider recital by tenor Christoph Prégardien and pianist Michael Gees – Seen and Heard Worldwide


United Kingdom Oxford Lieder Competition 2022 [8] – Brahms, Schumann, Schubert: Christoph Prégardien (tenor), Michael Gees (piano). St John the Evangelist Church, Oxford, 26.10.2022. (CR)

Brahms – Dein blaues Auge, Op.59 No.8; Von ewiger Liebe, Op.43 No.1, Feldeinsamkeit, Op.86 No.2; Wie rafft’ ich mich auf in der Nacht, Op.32 No.1; Auf dem Kirchhofe, Op.105 No.4

Mahler – Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen

Schubert – Auf Der Bruck’, D853; Im Abendrot, D799; Rastlose Liebe, D138; Lied des gefangenen Jägers, D843; An die Türen will ich schleichen, D478c; Der Wanderer, D649; Der Wanderer an den Mond, D870; Der Einsame, D800; Der Schiffer, D536; An Schwager Kronos, D369; Der Doppelgänger, D957 No. 13; Nacht und Träume, D827

Christoph Prégardien was because of be joined by his son, Julian, for this recital, including a familial dimension to the Oxford Lieder Competition’s theme of ‘friendship in tune’ this 12 months. Because the latter was unwell, that left Prégardien père alone on the platform, with Michael Gees – nonetheless hardly a prospect to be sniffed at! The programme was thematically properly devised in that includes songs by three composers, largely about love – often fulfilled, however primarily aggravated, thwarted or betrayed – and a few of them aptly set towards a backdrop of darkish, stormy climate, appropriately chosen for this late October night time.

Maybe essentially the most conspicuous achievement on this recital, fairly other than any particular person felicities particularly songs or phrases, was Prégardien’s constantly assured projection and actual diction, sustained throughout the entire programme in order that it was linked by a deeply musical unity, regardless of the various repertoire from the stylistically assorted composers. A number of barely strained excessive notes within the first few songs hardly mattered and ceased in a while in any case (as demonstrated within the ringing readability tellingly held on ‘Sonnenschein’ in Mahler’s ‘Ging heut’ morgen über’s Feld’). In any other case there was a reliable solidity in tone all through, which blended particularly properly with the wealthy center register of the Steinway piano when voice and instrument hovered across the identical tessitura, not least in order to grasp in sound the nice and cozy glow of night eulogised in Schubert’s ‘Im Abendrot’. Prégardien’s exact intonation additionally made an arresting impact the place the melody took an surprising flip as within the flattened sevenths which happen in direction of the top of Brahms’s ‘Von ewiger Liebe’, or once more within the center part of Mahler’s ‘Die zwei blauen Augen von meinem Schatz’ because the vocal line performs round exquisitely with the tonal ambiguity of the piano half which shifts backwards and forwards from main to minor.

Gees’s enjoying was at all times considerate, setting an apt environment and tempo for each tune, and so making of every one, alongside Prégardien, a enormously involving drama. The Brahms songs all emerged darkly, however warmly, instilling a temper of concentrated introversion generally; and notably a spellbound stillness for ‘Feldeinsamkeit’, or an indefatigable tread like a funeral march for the singer’s survey of a graveyard for ‘Auf dem Kirchhofe’. The latter was made all of the extra compelling by Prégardien’s solemn supply of its last two strains (observing how the lifeless are launched from the world’s travails) like a chorale or as if looking forward to the religious earnestness of the identical composer’s 4 Severe Songs.

Each performers introduced a special vary of colors to Mahler’s cycle, evoking one thing of the broader expressive potentialities of the composer’s later model for orchestra, such because the pressing opening of ‘Wenn mein Schatz Hochzeit macht’ giving option to an ironic little waltz within the center, or the nonetheless extra pained desperation of ‘Ich’ hab ein gluhend Messer’, ending in strains from Prégardien which had been as a lot shouted or declaimed as sung, in agonised frustration. ‘Die zwei blauen Augen’ was delivered as if a lethal solemn march.

The sequence of Schubert songs opened with a agency jolt from the piano, sweeping up each instrumental and vocal components and driving them powerfully via Schubert’s galloping setting of verse which recounts a lover briskly driving to his beloved on a horse, with components of ‘Erlkönig’ concerning the music, however with out the tragedy. A equally vigorous pressure continued via the subsequent few songs, till the primary Wanderer’s imaginative and prescient of the moon was met with a quiet, nonetheless solemnity, quite than unduly portentous, and ‘Der Wanderer an den Mond’ had an attractively wry briskness to it. ‘Der Einsame’ captured each a way of humour, and the thoughtfulness of the speaker as he roughly holds a dialog with himself concerning the pleasures of his solitary state of affairs. ‘An Schwager Kronos’ was a stern tackle by Prégardien, with uncompromising help from the piano, earlier than a devastatingly nonetheless however horrified depth got here from each for ‘Der Doppelgänger’, from Schwanengesang, absolutely probably the most dramatic of all Schubert’s 600 and extra songs.

Concluding the recital formally, a rapt, broad efficiency of ‘Nacht und Träume’ (its opening chord following on roughly immediately from ‘Der Doppelgänger’) continued the nocturnal theme, however now providing relaxation and catharsis, with Gees’s gently rocking accompaniment and Prégardien’s completely safe line. As an encore they gave a fairly strenuous rendition of Schubert’s ‘An mein Herz’, D860, nervously clipped at first, however creating with implacable stride via its verses to the top. That set the seal on a outstanding recital, inciting this reviewer to a few glasses of wine within the nearest public home instantly afterwards to come back again right down to earth!

Curtis Rogers

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