Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Hanno Müller-Brachmann & András Schiff, one year on

Konzerthaus, 11/03/2012

Schubert, from Schwanengesang:

Der Atlas, D 957/8
Ihr Bild, D 957/9
Das Fischermädchen, D 957/10
Die Stadt, D 957/11
Am Meer, D 957/12
Der Doppelgänger, D 957/13

Brahms:
Der Tod, das ist die kühle Nacht, op. 96/1
Es schauen die Blumen, op. 96/3
Meerfahrt, op. 96/4
Sommerabend, op. 85/1
Mondenschein, op. 85/2
Es liebt sich so lieblich im Lenz, op. 71/1
Vier ernste Gesänge, op. 121
***
Brahms: Drei Intermezzi, op. 117
Schumann: Dichterliebe, op. 48

I just commented about how anything is possible in the Konzerthaus’s much-improved acoustic and stand by it even though Lieder recitals should ideally not be happening in 1,800 capacity halls (which may be average by American standards but for the seats the Großer Saal has a lot of square footage and a big stage). In some ways the big hall has its advantages over the neighbouring 700 seat Mozart Saal: singers can often overpower the smaller hall and pianos acquire a brightness which is hard for even the most sensitive of pianists to shake off. In this Liederabend András Schiff had no problems projecting some soft playing to the back of the hall (where I was seated), and did an admirable job of making the space sound intimate. But Hanno Müller-Brachmann seem preoccupied which making himself heard and the corresponding loss of subtlety was a great pity.

The Schwanengesang Heine selections were ably sung but tended towards the stentorian, with the overall dynamic level pretty much unvarying from song to song. Müller-Brachmann’s phrasing was admirable in principle (long lines never wanting for breath) but too often he imposed large hairpins on his phrases, particularly in ‘Der Atlas’, ‘Ihr Bild’, and ‘Am Meer’, where I find that a more even delivery works well (it’s all about saving it for the 7-6 on ‘Fielen die Tränen nieder’). None of the singing was bad, but he needn’t have worked so hard – as he seemed to recognize with the atmosphere setting at the beginning of ‘Der Doppelgänger’, sung with an excellently projected piano.   
Müller-Brachmann started off safe and became more daring in the second half, and while sadly only the opposite can be said for András Schiff, he really did give of his best in these Schubert songs. There are too many moments to list, the most impressive being his complete understanding of a representational significance which can be read into subdominant and dominant notes in ‘Der Doppelgänger’, the latter becoming more prominent by subtle gradation as the former grew weaker. The mediant was also fully realized as the remote tonal area it is on paper.

The Brahms songs barely compare to the others on the programme, and I don’t have much to say apart from to comment that Müller-Brachmann still appeared to be warming up. More Brahms followed the interval, though my impression of Schiff’s solo spot – having heard one or more of the Drei Intermezzi, op. 117 numerous times already this season – was that as long as Lupu is still routinely offering these miniatures as encores they should perhaps be regarded as his sole property. Schiff’s bumpy melody line overpowered the harmony in no. 1, and in what should be considered a lesson on how these simple little pieces are not so simple, he forgot the music and had to start improvising halfway through (exactly the same thing happened to Volodos a few months ago, though he rescued it sooner). Pulse was wayward and Schiff pushed the music too hard. The opening octaves of no. 2 saw an interesting experiment in articulation – legato in the right hand, detached in the left – though not one I’d care to hear again.

Müller-Brachmann loosened up a lot for Dichterliebe, with lighter tone working to good effect in ‘Die Rose, die Lilie, die Taube, die Sonne’, the words darting off the page here, and ‘Ein Jüngling liebt ein Mädchen’. Tempi were more or less conventional throughout except for a curious ‘Ich grolle nicht’, which he took at something like half the usual speed and yet sustained the long notes well and, unlike in the Schubert, gave his phrases room to build in intensity. Now is a good time to mention that diction throughout this concert was exemplary and I scarcely had to look at the text in my programme, though the weight he lent to the text in this song suffered somewhat of a disconnect; ‘bricht’ was very bitter and ‘strahlst in Diamentenpracht’ had genuine Ausstrahlung, but then ‘Schlang’’, ‘frißt’ and ‘elend’ were all thrown away. ‘Die alten bösen Lieder’ was grand and expansive but again the emphasis was all on the description (we had a Fafner-like Heidelberg Tun and Cologne cathedral) and oddly missing from the crucial line. I might have missed something, but softer delivery in other places seemed more of a conscious interpretative choice.   

This concert postponed from a year ago and Müller-Brachmann was the replacement for a since retired Thomas Quasthoff. There was a lot of ‘kein Quasthoff’ muttering going on, though for people who did little apart from cough and hack their way through the proceedings – and it was the same people – to consider themselves in any position to judge is beyond me.

Image credit: Monika Rittershaus

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