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An die Musik

New York
Carnegie Hall
04/25/2009 -  
Franz Schubert: Schwanengesang: Aufenthalt, D. 957, No. 5; Ständchen, D.957, No. 4; Der Atlas, D.957, No. 8 – Der Einsame, D.800 – An die Musik, D. 547 – Lachen und Weinen, D.777 – Heidenröslein, D.257 – Der Musensohn, D.764 – Lied eines Schiffers an die Dioskuren, D.360 – Prometheus, D.674
Hugo Wolf: Drei Gedichten von Michelangelo: Wohl denk ich oft - Alles endet, was entstehet - Fühlt meine Seele
Robert Schumann: Dichterliebe, Op. 48

René Pape (Bass), Brian Zeger (Piano)

B. Zeger & R. Pape (© Richard Termine)

On Saturday evening at Carnegie Hall, René Pape, sharing the stage with the superb pianist, Brian Zeger, made his long-anticipated recital debut. In the fourteen years since he first appeared at the Metropolitan Opera, Pape has been much admired here for both his vocal and dramatic gifts. He has a powerful, flexible voice that is capable of producing a marvelous variety of colors. He sings with a beautiful and smooth vocal line throughout his considerable range. His enunciation is crystal clear. And, whether in star roles or in cameos (such as Fasolt in Das Rheingold, which I saw on Thursday), his voice illuminates the interior life of the characters he portrays.

The results are often surprising (his depiction of a love-sick, emotionally vulnerable Fasolt, for example) as well as deeply affecting. In his move from the opera stage to the recital stage, Pape made full use of all of these talents in a very ambitious program. Throughout, but especially in the second half, where he was virtually an equal partner, Brian Zeger played with great sensitivity and technical skill.

Zeger has an exceptionally broad range of abilities as well as responsibilities. He has a successful career as a pianist and in chamber music. He is an arts administrator, currently head of the Julliard Vocal Arts Department as well as the Metropolitan Opera’s Lindemann Young Artists Development Program. He is also a teacher and a writer. I am reminded a bit of an old friend’s tongue-in-cheek observation about Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau. "Surely, he said, there must be a Mr. Dietrich, a Mr. Fischer, and a Mr. Dieskau." Is there really only one Brian Zeger?

In the first set of Schubert songs, two of the three, Aufenthalt and Der Atlas showed off the unforced power and sonorous depth of Pape’s voice. The second set was lighter in tone and in mood. Der Einsame had a sprightly playfulness but, underneath, there was the wistful sadness of the hermit sitting by the fire with only a cricket for company. Heidenröslein was sung as a mock tragedy, with beautiful vocal colors and dynamic finesse.

Between the two sets of Schubert songs, were Wolf’s three songs based on poems by Michelangelo. The second of these, Alles endet, was entstehet, sung mostly in half voice, was an emotionally wrenching experience – a memento mori about the transitory nature of life, love, even memory. Nothing lasts. It reminded me of sixteenth century English poet Thomas Nashe’s In Time of Pestilence, which is probably an unfortunate comparison to be making under current circumstances. Wolf died, insane, the result of syphilis, less than a year after he wrote these songs.

The second half of the program was devoted to Schumann’s Dichterliebe, a song cycle of a very different type from Schubert’s Die schöne Müllerin and Winterreise, both of which tell the consistent, linear story of one character. If there is a single character in Dichterliebe, it is Schumann himself. He selected sixteen poems from the sixty-four in Heine’s Lyrisches Intermezzo and constructed a musically subtle and complex picture of love in all its aspects – with its hope and joy tinged with the possibility, even inevitability, of heartbreak and despair. This performance of Dichterliebe, one of the finest I have ever heard, was the highlight of the evening.

In these songs, such as the extraordinarily tender Allnächtlich im Traume, Schumann transfigures heartbreak into something exquisite. Throughout, Pape’s enunciation, phrasing and word painting brought out the nuances of the text. He employed a wide range of dynamics, from the powerful depths of his voice in Im Rhein im heiligen Strome to the gentleness of Am leuchtenden Sommermorgen and the melting lyricism of Im wunderschönen Monat Mai.

Dichterliebe is noteworthy for its extended -- and here, beautifully played -- postludes that crystallize the mood of the songs. Two lovely examples came at the end of Im Rhein im heiligen Strome, and Am leuchtenden Sommermorgen. The piano could also be a companion in despair, as in Ich hab’im Traum geweinet, where Zeger left us hanging on the last almost painfully tentative notes. Or the postlude could express a depth of emotion that the voice did not express, as in Und wüssten’s die Blumen. The long postlude of the last song, Die alten, bösen Lieder seemed to achieve the peace that eluded the poet in life.

Mr. Pape is currently appearing at the Metropolitan Opera as Fasolt in Das Rheingold and Hunding in Die Walküre

Arlene Judith Klotzko



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