Home | Reviews | Articles | Festivals | Competitions | Other | Contact Us

Klemens Sander & Petra Lang with Charles Spencer
Susan Gritton with Graham Johnson, Anthony Marwood and Moray Welsh

Wigmore Hall, London 3, 4 & 6 April 2005


An unusual international programme, and memories of Charles Spencer from a notable recital in Austria, encouraged coverage of the young Austrian baritone Klemens Sander's prize recital of Beethoven and Schubert Lieder, spiced by Martin's Everyman monologues and finishing with Shakespeare songs by Gerald Finzi as a nod of respect to his hosts, The Anglo-Austrian Music Society.  

An die ferne Geliebte received a super-sensitive account, meticulously prepared for the auspicious Wigmore Hall appearance. Every phrase had been thought out by both musicians in terms of the words and there were arresting contrasts of tone and sudden surges of speed making the six continuous songs a vivid experience.  

Next a Schubert group, beginning with the Harper's songs, given their due of hollow despair, and culminating with the angry defiance of Prometheus, steel entering Sander's mellifluous and flexible voice, which can encompass lyrical light baritone to hectoring operatic bass-baritone. This Richard Tauber prizewinner is good to watch, and in his face he conveyed feeling without resorting to gestural exaggeration.  

Towards the interval the evening light was drawing in in until it became impossible to follow the texts, so for the second half we moved close under one of the few lights that is always remains switched on - in the event, the ceiling and wall bracket lights were switched; you never can tell!  

Although welcome for a rare outing, Frank Martin's recitatives and ariosos from Hofmannsthal's Everyman play proved the least engaging work of the evening. They are rightly called monologues, not songs, and the unrewarding accompaniment sounds as if it is waiting for its orchestration six years later. Everyman's hope that his wealth would see him right on the journey to the next world gradually recedes, until he prays that his 'mountain of sins' will not exclude him from a seat 'at His right hand'. Finzi's songs about death, Come away, Death and Fear no more the heat o' the sun spoke far more eloquently ande movingly. The group, given in good English, reminded us what a felicitous composer for voice was Gerald Finzi.  


Next day Charles Spencer (Christa Ludwig's favourite accompanist) was partnering a more famous singer for the BBC lunchtime concert. Petra Lang , who is best known in opera (see The Trojans), was also making a belated Wigmore Hll debut. This again, fom the beginning, was a dream partnership. Her distinctively individual and rich mezzo voice was served by flawless technique with perfect breath-control and she floated rapt pianissimo as well as rising to dramatic climaxes, those however scaled to the Wigmore Hall's acoustic.  

Wagner's Wesendonk Lieder were the heart of the recital and you'd never need to hear them better; the piano accompaniments are not easy to bring off but Charles Spencer left you not in the least regretting the absence of the orchestra. A group of Sibelius, in the original Swedish, was better in performance than, to my taste, are the songs themselves, their piano accompaniments a little undistinguished. However they provided contrast and scope for Petra Lang's dramatic penchant, and the girl who returned from her trysts flushed at first, then pale faced because of her lover's infidelity was powerful indeed.  

Her recital was framed by Mahler, some of whose songs had a further life as building blocks for the symphonic works. The scheduled Mahler songs were lighter, and her encores two of Mahler's most spiritual creations, Urlicht and Ich bin der Weltabhanden gekommen , the latter allowing the pianist the last word (as Schumann often does) with a meltingly beautiful epilogue to remind us that piano virtuosity is a matter of weighing and placing tones equally as prestidigitation.  

Throughout the two recitals singers and pianist were at one with precise unanimity of timing so that one never felt that one was driven by the other. Charles Spencer's voicing of lines and chords was as compelling to hear at Wigmore Hall as in Wolf with Ildikó Raimondi at Klagenfurt; a singers' pianist of the finest calibre. Spencer is English born and studied at the Royal Academy of Music in London, but is based in Vienna. He is a Fellow of RAM and I would hope to hear him there giving Master Classes?  

I trust that Klemens Sander and Petra Lang will both return to Wigmore Hall soon, and also that my previous recommendation of Ildikó Raimondi, with whom Charles Spencer is giving two recitals in Vienna next week, may also bear fruit in London.


Less successful two days later was Susan Gritton, over-parted in a demanding and very strange mixed programme of Beethoven, Schumann, Britten, Poulenc and Shostakovich, with Petra Lang's perfection still ringing in the ears.

Susan Gritton is an admired stalwart on the British and international scene, but she is variable and was not in good voice, though things improved in the second half - Poulenc, and Shostakovich at his gloomiest, the Blok Romances. Those required violin and cello, though the whole piano trio ensemble was only deployed in the final song. To give the strings more work, the concert began (disastrously) with five of Beethoven's commercial pot-boilers, 179 folk song settings with trio obbligato; Susan Gritton was not the singer to put those over.

The Petra Lang recital is available for a week on the BBC 3 Listen Again schedule and should be considered for release on their Archive CD series; the Golden Age of singing is not all in the past!

The finals of this year's Richard Tauber Prize for singers resident in the UK or Austria will be at Wigmore Hall, Wednesday afternoon 1 June.

© Peter Grahame Woolf