The Darker Side of Love – Christoph Prégardien and Daniel Heide at the Wigmore Hall
Christoph Prégardien (tenor), Daniel Heide (piano) – Wigmore Hall, London, live on BBC Radio 3, 18 May 2015
Listening link (opens in a new window):
on the iPlayer until 17 June
In case you cannot hear the broadcast, I have put together a Spotify playlist of most of the music in this concert, including recordings the artists have made where possible. The playlist can be found here
What’s the music?
Schubert: An den Mond, D259; Schäfers Klagelied, D121
Schubert: Erster Verlust, D226
Schubert: Rastlose Liebe, D138
Schubert: Wandrers Nachtlied II, D768
Schubert: Willkommen und Abschied, D767 (17 minutes)
Schumann: Dichterliebe, Op.48 (30 minutes)
What about the music?
The relationship between Schubert and the poetry of Goethe was long-standing, beginning in October 1814 and yielding tens of songs. Many of them are darker utterances, and the collection here enjoys the composer’s ability to cast a nocturnal scene for voice and piano seemingly at will. It also celebrates his faster, galloping songs, the singer in the saddle for an action-packed horse ride, while the sheer simplicity of shorter songs such as Erster Verlust is pure and touching.
Schumann’s famous year of song reached its creative peak in May 1840, when he wrote the Liederkreis, published as Op.39, and Dichterliebe, where he sought inspiration once again from the poetry of Heinrich Heine. The quote in the Wigmore Hall program sums it up perfectly, Schumann describing the verses as ‘short, maliciously sentimental, and written in the folk style’. They evoke outdoor scenes but also inward and often crippling emotions, the singer – and possibly the listener! – an emotional liability by the end. Schumann rescues Dichterliebe, however, through the piano postludes he provides to Am leuchtenden Sommermorgen (One bright summer morning) and the closing song Die altern, bösen Lieder (The bad old songs), attempting and largely succeeding to restore stability.
Christoph Prégardien has been singing these songs (or ‘Lieder’, as we should really call them!) for a long time – he recorded most of them a while back – but he still brings keen emotion to the stage.
The silence of Wigmore Hall during a song as tense as Schumann’s Ich hab’ im Traum geweinet (I wept in my dream), the ninth of Dichterliebe’s dozen, said it all. Here was a performer creating vivid pictures from Heine’s barbed text and Schumann’s equally frosty responses to the dark side.
In Schubert, too, the steely edge of even the most youthful Goethe setting could be glimpsed, brought out in an early song like An den Mond (To the Moon) by pianist Daniel Heide, stressing the notes Schubert brings in to challenge the happier times of the song.
Schubert’s horse-riding songs, Rastlose Liebe and Wilkommen und Abschied, were adrenalin-fuelled dashes into the country, while Schäfers Klaglied brilliantly evoked both the tempest and its subsequent rainbow.
Prégardien is an unfussy singer who communicates with his audience through subtle but meaningful expression, both visually and with the use of his hands. This somehow carries over to the listener too, either in the hall or at home, part of a masterclass in how to sing these songs.
What should I listen out for?
1:50 – An den Mond (To the Moon) A calm and seemingly contented song to begin the selection – though there are some warning signs, chiefly in the piano part, to suggest all is not well.
5:27 – Schäfers Klagelied (Shepherd’s lament) A downcast and solemn song, with a vivid depiction of a storm in its central section from the piano (from 6:55), which also somehow describes the resultant rainbow (7:13) before a return to sadness.
8:58 – Erster Verlust (First loss) A song of striking simplicity and sadness, with an aching melody where the purity of Prégardien’s tone really comes through
11:22 – Rastlose Liebe (Restless love) A song that gallops out of the blocks with its rapid movement on the piano, and the breathless voice almost struggles to keep up. Meine signs off beautifully at 12:30.
12:47 – Wandrers Nachtlied II (Wanderer’s Nightsong II) Here we can feel the stillness of a summer evening, the conditions in which Goethe scribbled the verses for this poem as he stood outside in a garden. Prégardien’s higher notes are beautifully tailored.
15:18 – Willkommen und Abschied (Greeting and farewell) Another of Schubert’s quick dashes through the text, though at the end of each verse we have a pregnant pause. Prégardien cries out ‘ihr Götter’ (‘O gods!’) at 17:17. The text at the end translates as ‘what a joy to be loved’
The words for Dichterliebe can be found here
21:12 – Im wunderschönen Monat Mai (In the wondrous month of May) A graceful song to begin the cycle, with some beautiful top notes (the translated words ‘blossom’ and ‘desire’) that Prégardien very subtly stresses through a pause.
22:54 – Aus meinen Tränen sprießen (From my tears will spring) The spring-like openness continues, in the same key.
23:51 – Die Rose, die Lilie, die Taube, die Sonne (Rose, lily, dove) A playful song, over in a flash!
24:23 – Wenn ich in deine Augen seh (When I look into your eyes) A tender love song, that tellingly moves to the purity C major to tell of how ‘when I kiss your lips, then I am wholly healed’. There is a yearning postlude on the piano.
26:12 – Ich will meine Seele tauchen (Let me bathe my soul) Another short love song, this time with a flowing, watery piano accompaniment.
27:08 – Im Rhein, im heiligen Strome (In the Rhine, the holy river) The singer adopts a much more imposing tone to evoke the grandeur of the Rhine and the great cathedral of Cologne, where hangs an image of ‘Our beloved Lady’ – which the singer equates to that of his own love. The piano postlude is reminiscent of a Baroque aria.
29:16 – Ich grolle nicht (I bear no grudge) The text turns darker, though the musical language is still generally positive. The tenor has a heavier tone here, the voice more of a baritone in its richness.
30:49 – Und wüßten’s die Blumen, die kleinen (If the little flowers only knew) The piano matches the tenor in this flowing, limpid song – spring like in its subject matter but ultimately sad and regretful at a broken heart. This leads straight into…
32:05 – Das ist ein Flöten und Geigen (What a fluting and fiddling) A proud song but once again with a darker centre.
33:29 – Hör’ ich das Liedchen klingen (When I hear the little song) This is Heine’s poetry at its coldest, and in this brief song it gets a suitably bare response from Schumann, who then attempts some consolation in the extended piano postlude, which in reality says just as much as the song does.
35:47 – Ein Jüngling liebt ein Mädchen (A boy loves a girl) A more positive mood now – but soon the poetry turns dark as well. Schumann keeps his tongue firmly in his cheek, allowing the tenor a bit of sardonic humour and the piano a grand finish
36:47 – Am leuchtenden Sommermorgen (One bright summer morning) A beautifully simple song – though now the mood of sadness is taking hold with greater certainty. Again we have a longer piano postlude, the pianist reflecting the text through music and trying to console.
39:38 – Ich hab’ im Traum geweinet (I wept in my dream) Schumann’s use of silence here is striking and altogether ominous. Prégardien gathers the power of the final verse, the texture sparse as can be, until the music stops abruptly.
42:25 – Allnächtlich im Traume (Nightly in my dreams) An elusive song – another dream but one the poet cannot really remember – which possibly explains why Schumann leaves the music sounding half-finished at the end.
43:54 – Aus alten Märchen winkt es (A white hand beckons) There is greater optimism in this song, using the upper register of the piano for the first time in a while, but once again Heine insists on an ending that takes away the potential for happiness. Schumann’s music rescues this in the postlude however!
46:39 – Die alten, bösen Lieder (The bad old songs) A bit of nostalgia to finish – though this is a purge, the poet casting all his ‘bad and bitter dreams’ away in a heavy coffin. Schumann responds with gallows humour, a song that is bold and defiant in its execution but which fades away to reflection. Once again we have a piano postlude, this one even more meaningful as it tries to draw the cycle to a soft conclusion. In the right performance however, like this one, a level of bitterness remains.
53:05 – Schumann – Mit Myrthen und Rosen (With myrtle and roses) (the last song from Liederkreis, Op.24) This has an effortless, upward curve to the melody. Prégardien’s gestures to the audience here were beautifully observed.
With Christoph Prégardien demonstrating his almost unparalleled abilities in Schubert, here is a Spotify link to a recent recording of him singing the great Schubert song cycle Winterreise. Again this is music on the dark side, but is greatly inspired at that. Texts can be found http://www.recmusic.org/lieder/assemble_texts.html?SongCycleId=47″>here and the playlist is here
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