Christian Gerhaher’s facility to suffuse his singing with often revelatory textual insight, particularly in his native German, is acknowledged. He has an unerring ability to draw an audience in, and to create a wonderful sense of the intimate, as here at Wigmore Hall, enhanced by no mood-breaking exits and entrances between pieces, including two groupings of Brahms, both commencing with songs of love and longing, and exemplary of Gerhaher’s artistry – the sense of line, control of dynamics, deft use of vocal colour – all at the service of the poetry.
With Gerold Huber’s ever-sensitive and, where needed, virtuosic accompaniments, these were vivid performances. The ambulatory nature of the action in Über die Heide as depicted in the piano part was a telling instance in. Gerhaher was also great at differentiating the two voices of Vom verwundeten Knaben– the initial narrator setting the scene and then the outpouring of sorrow uttered by the maiden who finds the body of the young man.
Dvořák’s Biblical Songs were fine examples of the best of the partnership too. These wonderful settings were sung with rapt intensity and played with a sense of the quietly devotional.
Oddly, Mussorgsky’s Songs and Dances of Death didn’t come off so well. Gerhaher wasn’t at his most communicative, and his soft-grained voice and geniality didn’t sit well with the rather sardonic nature of the texts. One wanted greater incisiveness and unpleasantness in the reading. Interesting to hear a different ‘take’ though.
The evening had commenced with a selection of Britten realisations of Henry Purcell and John Weldon. Gerhaher, singing in crisp English, relished the vocal embellishments and adopted a bright, direct and vibrato-free tone. Huber’s continuo-like accompaniment was idiomatically astute.