Michaela Schuster has for some years been a prominent presence on stages, notable for bringing some of opera’s witches and bitches to vivid theatrical life. Her rich and powerful voice allied to her strong sense of theatre might suggests the intimate setting of Wigmore Hall as not her natural venue, but in this thoughtfully conceived programme interspersing settings by Mahler, Reger and Weill throughout Korngold’s 1933 cycle Unvergänglichkeit (Permanence) she demonstrated great communicative skill. The lower and chest registers of her voice are remarkable, and we were drawn in quickly to the worlds of each song. Given her stage performances the recital was notable for its overall restraint. The programme was also subtle in grouping under different thematic titles.
The different qualities of the composers were also evident; the mellow fluidity of Mahler’s lines contrasting well with the more expressionistic songs of Korngold, the variety of Reger’s styles and the almost cabaret feel of the Weill. Indeed, it was her performances of the latter where Schuster’s more playful and interactive qualities emerged – she relishes the rhythmic verve and vitality of the songs and has a natural way of singing and part-speaking to the great benefit of their humorous, bittersweet and sometimes political undercurrents; her one encore was Weill’s setting of Cocteau, ‘Es regnet’.
Other facets were treasurable, such as a lovely covered and plangent quality to brought Mahler and Korngold, vocal leaps beguilingly improvisatory, and there was some particularly fine accompaniment from Matthias Veit – who excelled in the piano cascades of Korngold’s ‘Sommer’ and in the keyboard helter-skelter of mice in Reger’s ‘Zwei Mäuschen’.
The recital started and ended with rapt singing of the principal number of Unvergänglichkeit, Schuster and Veit cleverly bringing a different sense of colour to the reprise. However, the final impression was left by the Weill encore - she should perform and record more of his songs for sure!