Monday, 30 April 2012

Viennese worship at Gruberova's feet

Past Wiener glories...
Wiener Staatsoper, 26/04/2012

Edita Gruberova / Alexander Schmalcz Liederabend

Schubert:
Vier Canzonen, D 688
La pastorella al prato, D 528
Vedi quanto adoro,  D 510
Suleika I, D 720
Suleika II, D 717
Gretchen am Spinnrade, D 118
Lied der Delphine, D 857

Wolf:
Gesang Weylas
Der Gärtner
Zitronenfalter im April
Mausefallen-Sprüchlein
Er ist’s
Der Knabe und das Immlein
Elfenlied

Strauss:
Ich wollt ein Sträußlein binden, op. 68 no. 2
Säusle, liebe Myrte!, op. 68 no. 3
Als mir Dein Lied erklang, op. 68 no. 4
   

The reaction to this recital – which involved two long standing ovations and enough bouquets to fill the green room a couple of times over – was, yes, a touch overblown, but then I imagine audience members of a certain age were witness to Edita Gruberova’s Queen of the Night and Zerbinetta back in the day at this house, so nostalgia was inevitable. Those Wiener who could be overheard claiming that the voice is practically unchanged may have been kidding themselves, though Gruberova’s instrument, as has often been noted, is remarkably well-preserved – and particularly its timbre, which in these Lied selections sounded fresh and melodic with nary a hint of shrillness all evening. Messa di voce, trills and runs were all typically Gruberovian, and vintage Gruberova at that, while sopranos twenty years her junior would kill for the clean attack and resonance of her top notes (five Cs, a D flat and E flat, by my count, and none negotiated with the trademark scooping, incidentally).

There was plenty of scooping elsewhere, which didn’t bother me, though I can’t say I find it as artistically grounded as Gruberova’s admirers claim. Her agility is not what it used to be, as ‘Ich wollt ein Sträußlein binden’ showed, and intonation was often under and with odd consistency (phrases that started out flat remained that way to precisely the same degree). And what some might call interpretation I felt subordinated to Gruberova the force of nature, particularly in the Rossinian stylings of Schubert’s Vier Canzonen (rendered into full-blown Donizetti without the slightest trace of irony). There was a stab at ‘proper’ Lied singing with ‘Gretchen’, which my companion felt captured the spirit of the song (her line was very subtle, I’ll give Gruberova that, but what it said about the song, I’m not sure).

The second half was no less operatic, with Gruberova’s Zerbinetta act laid on pretty thick in both the Wolf and Strauss selections. One need only read Susan Youens’ McClaryist Wolf readings – and do read them, because her analysis is a lot more convincing than McClary’s – to recognize how open to interpretation many of his Lieder are, and what can often point to a sinister underside (see the opening of ‘Der Knabe und das Immlein’) was skated over in Gruberova’s frivolous, even glib accounts. But ja, to hear the legendary Zerbinetta act in ‘Säusle, liebe Myrte’, that was special. Equally memorable was the radiant tone and vividly spun line of ‘Als mir Dein Lied erklang’.

At the end there was some Munich-directed banter about this not being her last Liederabend in Vienna and encores included a wicked ‘Wir armen Primadonnen’ quite obviously directed at the usual suspects (her Ange smile was DEAD ON). Flowers were not hurled but placed reverentially at Gruberova’s feet by a steady procession of fans.

This being Gruberova I can’t say I heard much of accompanist Alexander Schmalcz, except to note that his name is no indication of his playing. He performed on a Bösendörfer and the timbre sounded less tinny than the Steinway Rudolf Buchbinder used in the last of these Liederabende I attended, but the problem of a distant and hollow sound remains. With Goerne and Andsnes coming up next month the suitability of the space will no doubt come under scrutiny once again (an exception was made for Gruberova, but the Viennese are still not sold on the idea of Liederabende in the Staatsoper).

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