London Sinfonietta / Martyn Brabbins / Matthias Goerne / Thomas Larcher - Queen Elizabeth Hall, 30 September 2008
Matthias Goerne / Alexander Schmalcz - Queen Elizabeth Hall, 2 October 2008
Dmitry Shostakovich Suite on poems by Michelangelo Buonarroti, Op.145
Hugo Wolf 3 Michelangelo Lieder
Johannes Brahms 4 Serious Songs
I can only assume London wallets are feeling the credit squeeze. Perhaps that surefire audience repellent 'new music' had something to do with the small turnout for Matthias Goerne's concert with the London Sinfonietta on Tuesday, but I was shocked to see the Queen Elizabeth Hall barely a quarter full for his lieder recital later in the week. Of course many of the target audience hit Wigmore Hall instead for the crazily-scheduled competing attractions of Christian Gerhaher, but even so.....
The centrepiece of the first concert was the world premiere of a song cycle specially written for Matthias Goerne by Austrian composer Thomas Larcher. The perfectly-titled Die Nacht der Verlorenen ("the night of the lost") links fragments of unfinished poetry by the Austrian writer Ingeborg Bachmann in a single dark stream of song running through a shifting musical landscape. Modern if not especially novel textures like high whiny violins, rumbling fundamental brass and damped piano are applied to even older forms.
So its not revolutionary, but Larcher's gift is to hug the text to the music with such extraordinary sensitivity that it is both completion and response. It's so exquisitely crafted to Goerne's dark, melting baritone that it's impossible to imagine anyone else singing it, and he delivered it with utter security and searing commitment.
Larcher is also a pianist. Dressed ninja-style in a long black shirt and pants with little skippy rubber shoes, he performed a couple of his own works, Antennas, a short solo piece, and Bose Zellen (sic) a piano concerto. Both involved poking around in the piano with lumps of metal and stone, something I grew out of at the age of about 7, and still pains me to watch trained and talented musicians doing. Although the results were more melodic and less purely percussive than most work of this type, I'm not in a rush to hear either again. I'd rather have had an immediate repeat of Die Nacht der Verlorenen, a work I fear that despite its quality is not going to get many outings (any info about future performances anywhere in Europe, please let me know).
In the middle of the concert, Fraser Trainer interviewed Thomas Larcher, who came across as rather sweet and humble. He covered much of the same ground in an earlier interview, recorded at Larcher's stunningly beautiful alpine home, below:
Matthias Goerne was on top form again for his recital with Alexander Schmalcz at the piano two days later. His Shostakovich Michelangelo suite was a little effortful - technically secure but lacking that last ounce of connection with the Russian text.
But the second half's Wolf and Brahms saw him on firmer ground. Such was the intensity of the first group of songs that the audience, instead of bursting into applause at the end, sat there transfixed and silent, and the Brahms Serious Songs launched without a break. Gripping and thoroughly inhabited, every bit as 'godless' as Brahms would have wished, and a million miles from the dull piety of most interpretations, it was a performance almost embarrassing in its intensity. What a shame so few people got to hear it.