Schubert Schwanengesang, Maltman/ Johnson, Wigmore Hall, London
Wednesday 21 April 2010
What might Schubert have made of his Swansong?
He know nothing of it when he died and might well have thought better of it when he was alive. Nobody knows what he intended to do with the seemingly disconnected songs he left behind and whether or not he envisaged collating them in any meaningful way. They might have formed the basis of one or more narrative cycles in the manner of Die schöne Müllerin and Winterreise, they might have languished in glorious isolation. But the enterprising Viennese publisher Tobias Haslinger saw the commercial potential in a commemorative cycle and Schwanengesang emerged as the distilled and fractured last utterances of a haunted soul. The poets, Rellstab and Heine, may have been new to Schubert; the themes of longing and loss were not.
But what makes this “opportunistic” cycle truly startling is the absence of a clear narrative. The drama is in the extreme juxtapositioning of songs whose irony, heartache, and distress emerge in often uncompromising starkness. “Uncompromising” might also describe Christopher Maltman’s disarmingly bitter and hectoring reading with Graham Johnson.
Disquiet and cynicism characterised even the seemingly benign opening song Liebesbotschaft (“Love’s Message”) with Maltman keeping the words artificially light on the breath and making even the whispered sweet nothings sound deceitful. The martial strains, the distant thunder, of Kriegers Ahnung (“Warrior’s foreboding”) struck a similarly ominous note with Maltman rising to one ferocious battle cry, the precursor to an untimely death. What terrible irony in the pay-off line “Sweetest love – good night!”
It had already become apparent, though, that Graham Johnson’s playing was proving uncharacteristically smudgy and bloated rhythmically. Ständchen (“Serenade”) lacked that essential lightness and airiness of touch and rendered the strumming of the poet’s lute or guitar awkward and charmless. No one understands this music better than Johnson but his fingers here were not always in accord with his sensibilities. And as the cycle progressed it became more and more apparent that Maltman, in his determination to wring out the extreme nature of these settings, was inclined towards a two-dimensional approach both in terms of their dynamics and their emotional compass: soft or loud; tender or angry.
Some things were startling: the complete change of voice into bass extension for Der Atlas (“Atlas”) and the stark unisons of Ihr Bild (“Her likeness”) melting into the agonising memory of his departed lover’s smile. But as Maltman’s poet came face to face with the misery of his other self in Der Doppelgänger his anguish might just have been concealing a deeper truth.
Review: Of Mice and Men
By opportunistic local hoping to exhibit the work
Fans will be hoping the role finally wins him an Oscar
What do gigantic horse heads tell us about Falkirk?
Finnish Postal Service praises the 'self irony and humour' of the drawings
The actor has confessed to his own insecurities
Allotments are the focus of a new reality show
Arts & Ents blogs
The best movies on Netflix: 32 films that will end your endless scrolling
Game of Thrones season 4 episode 2 breaks torrent record as fans watch online
Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'
Mrs Doubtfire 2: Robin Williams set to star in sequel to 1993 comedy
Game of Thrones: Jack Gleeson is as delighted by [spoiler] as you are
The food poverty scandal that shames Britain: Nearly 1m people rely on handouts to eat – and benefit reforms may be to blame
US Navy christens huge $3 billion destroyer ship USS Zumwalt that appears as a fishing boat on enemy radar
Scottish independence: It is the English who should be on their knees, begging the Scots to vote ‘No’
Nigel Farage fatigue? Half of voters ‘immune’ to Ukip’s appeal
Nigel Farage on Have I Got News For You: Ukip leader ridiculed over expenses and party 'fruitcakes'
Nigel Farage: I’m taking on the status quo, and the Establishment’s fighting back
- 1 Poveglia: 'World's most haunted island' up for sale...is anyone brave enough to buy it?
- 2 Babies cry at night to stop mothers procreating, scientists claim
- 3 24 people applied for the 'world's toughest job', here are their interviews
- 4 Andre Johnson: Wu-Tang Clan-discovered rapper severed his penis and jumped from LA building
- 5 Mrs Doubtfire 2: Robin Williams set to star in sequel to 1993 comedy