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A welcome appearance by one of the world’s great singers

Koerner Hall
07/27/2010 -  
Robert Schumann: Three Songs on Poems by Heine: Abends am Strand, opus 45 No. 3, Es leuchtet meine Liebe, opus 127 No. 3, & Mein Wagen rollet langsam, opus 142 No. 4 – Liederkreis, Opus 24
Johannes Brahms: Three Intermezzos for solo piano, Opus 117 – Lieder, Opus 32

Matthias Goerne (Baritone), Andreas Haefliger (Piano)

The Toronto Summer Music Festival, now in its fifth year, has treated its audience (grateful as always for a classical music oasis in the midst of a relatively arid season) to a recital by Matthias Goerne - and what a treat it was!

First on the program were three songs by Schumann to poems by Heinrich Heine: Abends am Strand, Es leuchtet meine Liebe, and Mein Wagen rollet langsam. These items were sung just a few weeks ago in the same venue (the superb Koerner Hall) by Gerald Finley. If one considers the two performances a contest, the result is a tie for first place. Goerne quickly revealed that his voice has maintained its rich, supple, expressive tone.

These numbers were followed by more Heine/Schumann settings, the Liederkreis Opus 24, nine songs suffused with obsessiveness divided against itself. Pianist Andreas Haefliger’s contribution revealed itself to be part and parcel of the interpretations, not merely discreet accompaniment.

The second half opened with solo pieces for Haefliger, Brahms’s Three Intermezzos, Opus 117, composed in the waning years of his life. The pianist played the first one so very slowly it gave rise to a zen-like contemplation of each individual note. The danger in such an approach is that the melodic line gets lost. “Self-indulgent” seemed to be the post-concert verdict, but I would like to hear him do it again before passing judgement. The rippling second intermezzo was played more straightforwardly, as was the darker third piece.

This was followed by more Brahms, namely the nine Lieder, Opus 32, composed in 1864 when he was just 31. What was to become his trademark gloominess comes to the fore in many of the songs. One, entitled “Ich schlecht’ umher” (“I creep about”), asks twice “Und kommt’ ich je zu düster sein?” (“Could I ever be too gloomy?”) The answer, unfortunately, is “yes”. Still, there is much beauty and drama in these songs, the first one especially building to a major climax. The final number (one of three based on translations from the Persian poet Hafiz) with its quiet ecstasy contains to me a pre-echo of the first of the Opus 117 intermezzos, composed almost 30 years later.

Kudos to an audience that knows how to maintain a rapt silence when a piece ends quietly.

Matthias Goerne has been making a quick trip to North America, with just three recital dates: at the Ravinia Festival, this Toronto appearance, and Tanglewood. Lucky us!

Toronto Summer Music

Michael Johnson



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