Matthias Goerne / Christoph Eschenbach - Wigmore Hall, 15 June 2009
It's Matthias Goerne week at Wigmore Hall. The World's Greatest Singer and his distinguished sidekick Christoph Eschenbach kicked off their three Schubert cycles with Die schöne Müllerin on Monday night (Winterreise follows on Wednesday and Schwanengesang on Saturday). They recently recorded the cycle together - you can listen to the Amazon track previews here.
Goerne can sometimes present an introspective front at recitals, his head dipped over the piano's innards, the audience all but ignored. But here his mood was outgoing, and his curiously graceful squirming and swaying turned the little patch of stage in front of the piano into his own personal ballroom.
Goerne's protagonist is a man, not a boy. And not just because he's a baritone rather than a tenor - there's an assertive quality to his voice that shades every one of its many colours. While he can give every emotion an adolescent strength of feeling, here is none of the hesitancy of youth. He exploits extremes of tempo and dynamics without histrionics or striving for effect. From his super-slow Des Baches Wiegenlied to his breakneck Der Jäger, all had the inevitability wrought by certainty.
Goerne never underplays, but even by his standards, this was an incredibly intense performance. Even at the finest lieder recitals, I confess I can drift now and then, but Goerne had me pinned to my seat for the full 80 minutes or whatever it was. He sang mostly in very beautiful and finely controlled mezza voce. Explosions into full voice for passionate outbursts like Mein were sparing and properly shocking, not just digging into the individual words, but shaping the dramatic structure of the whole cycle.
Christoph Eschenbach was not so much an accompanist or even a partner as an extra limb. I didn't see him so much as catch Goerne's eye, yet their symbiosis was total. I can't recall ever hearing a lieder duo quite so well-paired. Eschenbach's contribution was always understated, but never mere background, and responsive to Goerne's every twist and turn.
Standing ovations are few and far between at the Wigmore - quite frankly many in the typical audience are no longer sufficiently sprightly to leap to their feet - but a fair number stood up at the end to show their appreciation.
Only one thing spoiled the evening. I am not a cough nazi and I don't normally bang on about it here, but the amount of coughing between songs was just ridiculous. And it didn't sound like real illness, either, just mass throat-clearing. Do people in a specialist audience like this really not know that the silent moments between songs are part of the cycle, not a rest break? And they were all old enough to know that you should cover your mouth if you really have to cough, so why didn't they? It was quite clearly annoying the artists, and perhaps that was the intention, but ruining everybody's evening is a remarkably selfish and vulgar way to express disapproval. Has it reached the point where venues need to give coughing instructions along with the now-traditional mobile phone announcements at the start?