Cast for a different walk of life

Matthias Goerne | Wigmore Hall, London
Click to follow
The Independent Culture

If the great German photographer August Sander had ever set eyes on Matthias Goerne, he would surely have cast him in some other walk of life than Lieder singer. All he needs is a sack on his back marked "Swag".

If the great German photographer August Sander had ever set eyes on Matthias Goerne, he would surely have cast him in some other walk of life than Lieder singer. All he needs is a sack on his back marked "Swag".

Goerne's platform manner is an obstacle that you can only overcome by looking at the words while he sings. If neither Elisabeth Schwarzkopf nor Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, his teachers, could cure him of his heave-ho lurching from side to side, or his way of goggling, then nobody can. His eyes even bulged alarmingly to the words "Gute Ruh, gute Ruh! Tu die Augen zu!" ("Rest! Close your eyes!") in the last song of Schubert's "Die schöne Müllerin" on Saturday.

That song, which Schubert marked "mässig" (moderate), was taken so slowly that it became a drag, and made the piano epilogue a nail-biting challenge for Goerne's accompanist, Eric Schneider. He controlled it pretty well. At well over 70 minutes, this must have been one of the longest performances of the cycle ever. Also, for much of the time, one of the quietest, with Goerne crooning and his words not always ideally clear.

To be fair, though, he did a lot more with his voice besides crooning - perhaps too much. His baritone is pleasantly soft-grained, but he rarely used it in a simple way. Schubert's apprentice miller is callow and self-deluding, and the pathos of his self-imposed tragedy is measured by his innocence, a quality Goerne is too sophisticated to express.

He began with a slightly hollow tone, bringing an edge to his voice with the vigorous fifth song. Perhaps the loveliest of all the 20 songs is "Tränenregen", which when sung sweetly is unbearably poignant. Here, it was too self-conscious and precious, so that you wanted to slap the miller for being soppy. When the miller's jealousy is aroused in "Der Jäger", Goerne mustered a fine angry attack, and he sang "Die liebe Farbe" with soft sadness, to a lightly understated accompaniment from Schneider.

Schneider could be abrupt and aggressive, too, as at the start of "Mein!" or "Die böse Farbe"; or freeze to order, as in "Trockne Blumen", which Goerne sang sotto voce until the last verse.

At the end of the cycle, he stood with his head bowed, as if asking us to observe two-minutes' silence. Wolfgang Holzmair did the same at the Queen Elizabeth Hall when he sang this cycle some time ago. I hope this won't become a tradition. No wonder someone asked Radio 3's The Brains Trust recently, "Is Art the new religion?".

Comments