Matthias Goerne / Helmut Deutsch - Wigmore Hall, 28 February and 2 March 2010
You never know quite what you're going to get in a Matthias Goerne recital. He can be great or unremarkable, surly or welcoming, engaged or indifferent - and he's not averse to switching round meticulously-planned programmes on the hoof. In these two, part of his ongoing 200-song Wigmore Hall Schubert marathon, a little bit of all of the above emerged.
Goerne's appeal has always lain in the rich velvety loveliness of his baritone as much as his artistry. But as soon as he began the first concert on Sunday night, it was obvious something was awry vocally. Whenever he pushed above the softest mezza voce, a tight, grainy, and frankly ugly sound was forced out. I assume tiredness or illness were to blame - the problem was gone by Tuesday.
Though I couldn't be a bigger Goerne fan, it was tough on the ears, and probably a blessing that he skipped one of the programmed songs. The only moment of real beauty was an extraordinarily slow Du bist die Ruh, spun out in such endlessly long-breathed, flowing lines that time seemed suspended. A slight waver as he crowned the stave on erhellt matched the limits of the voice perfectly to the climax of the song and proved that whatever his physical limitations on the night, his musical instincts were unerring.
On Tuesday his voice was back. Back too was his usual sheaf of crib notes, laid unashamedly on the piano's half-open lid. With sixteen songs on the programme, few of them in Goerne's (or indeed anyone's) regular repertoire, this much can be forgiven. What I found surprising though was how little he referred to them, and how much he simply made up as he went along. His substitutions were intelligent, not mere tongue slips - like schaut for the similar-meaning blickt. So it's possible even German speakers would have been none the wiser. In its own way, I suppose that's quite an impressive feat. But still odd. Simple memory lapses, or attempts to recraft the material in his own image?
Failing or not, it was easy to overlook in Goerne's otherwise beautifully-delivered programme. The sombre songs complemented his gifts for the reflective and introspective. The simplicity and sincerity of his Litanei auf das Fest aller Seelen made it the most affecting item of the evening. He rarely unleashed the full power of his voice, but when he did, in Der Zwerg, the air moved as people shot up in their seats. Even the meandering and overlong Viola and the saccharine Stolberg Stimme der Liebe were set out with care and love.
The stalwart Helmut Deutsch proved the most attentive and least egotistical of accompanists, whether authoritative, as in the Der Tod und das Mädchen prelude, or simply framing the singing of the unpredictable Goerne.
28 February - Der Jüngling und der Tod D545, Das Lied im Grünen D917, Die Herbstnacht D404, Lied (Ins stille Land) D403, Der Herbstabend D405, Drang in die Ferne D770, An mein Herz D860, Der Wanderer D649, Über Wildemann D884, Klage D371, Am Bach im Frühling D361, An die Laute D905, Des Fräuleins Liebeslauschen D698, Augenlied D297, Du bist die Ruh D776, An die Musik D547, An eine Quelle D530, Der Sänger am Felsen D482, Abschied von der Harfe D406, Liedesend D473
2 March - An die untergehende Sonne D457, Der Tod und das Mädchen D531, Die Rose D745, Erinnerung D101, Litanei auf das Fest aller Seelen D343, Auf dem Wasser zu singen D774, Abendbilder D650, Nach einem Gewitter D561, Der Zwerg D771, Im Frühling D882, Stimme der Liebe D412, Die Blumensprache D519, Viola D786, An die Entfernte D765, Bei dir allein D866 No. 2, Ganymed D544