Franz Schubert’s latest birthday was celebrated in fine style at Wigmore Hall, as a delectable selection of Lieder concluded the Complete Songs. Angelika Kirchschlager’s expansive, burnished mezzo filled the venue supported by Julius Drake’s nuanced and characterful accompaniment; voice and piano inseparably communicative.
The programme was carefully structured around the themes of commemoration, and the power and beauty of the natural world. The pianistic flourishes of ‘Namenstaglied’ (Name-day song) opened the recital with appropriate grandeur, and then the great ‘Frühlingsglaube’ expressed the anticipation of Spring’s blooming, accompanied by melancholy anxiety at such flux and change; Kirchschlager conveyed the golden energy of the season with her voice and body, always warmly engaging. Animation continued with ‘Geheimes’, a Goethe setting linked to the Suleika poems to be heard later; the drama of a secret love spoke through Kirchschlager’s sparkling eyes and gestures. The transient beauty of Spring and the fragility of love was expressed in a group of songs culminating in the delicate ‘Am Bach im Frühling’ (By the stream in Spring), the performers conveying hope and uncertainty. In contrast next we had two of Schubert’s magisterial dramas, ‘Ganymed’ and ‘Erlkönig’; Kirchschlager’s transformative, theatrical conviction was electrifying.
Wistful reflections on the stars and the sea opened the second half leading to the ravishing pair of Suleika settings, once attributed to Goethe, now identified as by his close friend Marianne von Willemer. The sweetness and sensuality of Schubert’s writing reaches its apogee here and Kirchschlager and Drake did not let us down. The strophic version of ‘An den Mond’ leavened the intense emotion and ushered in a selection of lesser-known sad love songs, and the evening concluded in the most unexpected and dramatic way with a fragment from a melodrama ‘Abschied von der Erde’, which Kirchschlager declaimed in beautiful ringing tones. Drake’s accompaniment was restrained and perfectly matched to the spoken word. This exhortation to the educative power and beauty of the natural and spiritual world served as a fitting tribute to Schubert and his timeless genius, which continues to convey all the glories and the existential angst of human existence.
The soothing encore ‘Wiegenlied’ was given in memory of Robert Rattray, the Metropolitan Opera’s Assistant General Manager and an artists’ representative, who died on January 30.