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Mahler and Schubert

Alice Coote & Julius Drake
Wigmore Hall 24 Mar 2006

Gustav Mahler
Frühlingsmorgen : Nicht wiedersehen!: Das irdische Leben: Serenade aus Don Juan: Selbstgefühl
Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen

Franz Schubert
Frühlingsglaube D. 686 : Am Bach im Frühling D. 361 : Der Tod und das Mädchen D. 531 : Nacht und Träume D. 827 t: Der Zwerg D. 771 : Die Sterne D. 939 : Im Abendrot D. 799t: Nähe des Geliebten D. 162: Rastlose Liebe D. 138: Gretchen am Spinnrade D. 118: Litanei auf das Fest aller Seelen D. 343 : Wandrers Nachtlied II D. 768

This was unquestionably a distinguished recital of German lieder, but I have to record a different reaction from Hilary Finch's in her 5-star review ("a perfectly devised recital") in The Times, which I commend for her conveying in print the almost religious ecstasy which was shared by the rapt audience, with scarce a cough to break the spell.

My distinct preference, however, was for the Mahler first half, taken in groups as usual, though even that had people at the interval hoping that the prevailing gloom would lighten afterwards.

It didn't; and I question the elevation of a Schubert selection to a quasi-religious rite; thirteen miscellaneous songs performed without a break, sometimes without even a momentary pause; applause definitley banned. How does that square with the convivial evenings one envisages at the composer's Schubertiades, "impromptu private concerts, one of the most attractive sides of Viennese musical life - - surrounded by those who were closest to him, Schubert would play his latest piano compositions or accompany the court opera singer Michael Vogl". Would there have been no vocal appreciation, conversation and breaks for refreshment even?

No criticism of the detail of presentation or preparation of the whole programme, which Alice Coote sung by memory, and with enviable breath control so that no technical problems interfered with her conveying the meanings inherent in the vocal lines.

But for a duo-event, I found more to interest me in the Mahler songs, in which Julius Drake rose to great heights in depicting the graphic scenes on the piano, leaving no thought that it was a poor relation to the orchestral versions in which most of the songs are better known and loved - Mahler's orchestral songs present such a complex and colorful instrumental part -- fascinating enough on their own to do without a singer, says one commentator!

*It was salutary to hear a substantial group in their original piano accompaniment form, including the Wayfarer's Songs. Here Julius Drake excelled himself in rhythmic nuances and colouration which eclipsed memories of some highly praised accounts with orchestra; and it's so much easier for two musicians to achieve perfect balance!

**And (having that day been enjoying the unknown songs of Havergal Brian) dare one whisper that the subject matter of nineteenth century German poetry set as lieder may contribute to the audiences being so much older than the performers they come to hear?


* But c.p. The Guardian "Mahler's piano versions of several of his songs are awkward and ineffective compared with the orchestral versions he clearly envisaged from the start, and not even Julius Drake's persuasive pianism could make them sound otherwise."

** Do read also Seen&Heard's interesting review " - - this outstanding recital was wasted on an audience whose best years of classical music are far behind them - - at least two-thirds of the sold-out hall were older than me - - Wigmore Hall is preaching to the converted - - concert-goers for this type of music are doomed to extinction - - when someone young (in their thirties or forties?) and pleasant looking passed by I felt I stared too long - - making me feel like a paedophile. Alice Coote deserved a standing ovation… but standing was not possible for most of those applauding because they would have had to reach for their sticks under the seats first.- - (JP)

© Peter Grahame Woolf