In this Brahms selection Matthias Goerne explored the depths vocally and emotionally of this supremely melancholy and philosophical repertoire, bringing a living, dramatic conviction to the tortured introspection of unresolved passion and rejection of Lieder und Gesänge, emotional confusion profoundly articulated. The power and flexibility of Goerne’s voice has increased through recent Wagnerian roles and in Wigmore Hall the effect was palpable. In ‘Wie rafft ich mich auf in der Nacht’, the enriched bottom of his range revealed poet August von Platen’s despairing and volatile perspective, and Alexander Schmalcz’s accompaniment matched the complex, veiled effects of the singer.
Brahms’s Heine settings followed. They differ from Schubert’s and Schumann’s; they do not hover on the brink of emotional obsession and insanity. Instead they emphasise the interior and exterior narrative, of the heart balanced by the natural world. The moon and the sea have their calming and turbulent characteristics but it is Brahms’s restraint that wins through. Goerne’s nuanced attention to detail never failed, nor his immense intellect and instinctual, creative musicianship. This extends to his partnerships and his carefully crafted recital programmes. Earlier this week at Wigmore Hall there was Wolf, Pfitzner, Wagner and Richard Strauss, accompanied by Seong-Jin Cho, and this Brahms fest with Schmalcz concluded with the Four Serious Songs, bleak and shattering mediations on death, their contrasts of emotional and spiritual drama revealed by an artist at the height of his powers.