December 16, 2010 5:22 pm

Wolfgang Holzmair, Wigmore Hall

Perhaps it is the intimacy of so much of Schumann’s music that is the attraction. Throughout this bicentenary year there have been intriguing cases of today’s composers getting as close as they can to Schumann, either writing pieces inspired by his or weaving his and theirs together in a meeting of musical minds.

Just before the year is out, baritone Wolfgang Holzmair came to make his contribution to the Wigmore’s Schumann bicentenary series. The second half of his recital was devoted to the Kerner-Lieder, least loved of Schumann’s song cycles, but in the first half Holzmair wrapped songs from the Op 39 Liederkreis around Aribert Reimann’s Nachtstück, a Schumann-like tribute also inspired by the poetry of Eichendorff.

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Holzmair makes an authoritative guide to German song. Stooping slightly, he acted out the songs with hand gestures, as though he was conducting himself, and sometimes his bountiful accompanist, Imogen Cooper, as he went along. When a score and lectern were brought on for the Reimann, the impression was of a lecture by a benign, highly animated professor of poetry.

Deservedly so – for no other singer of German song at the moment communicates so intently the rhythm and meaning of the poems. Holzmair was suffering from a bad throat (earlier in the day he had considered cancelling the recital) and his voice moved with less flexibility than usual. But though “Mondnacht” and “Zwielicht” were short on twilit half-tones, the words shone out; and the story of “Die beiden Grenadiere” is not often told so compellingly.

The Reimann piece, written in 1966, is a modern mirror image of a Schumann song cycle. “Nachtstück” takes a clutch of five night poems by Eichendorff and leads them into the dark corner of mid-20th-century German angst. Gloomily emphatic word-setting and strange sounds echoing at the top of the piano create a world of shadowy threats, vividly brought to life by Holzmair and Cooper. Even better, though, were the closing songs of the Kerner-Lieder, where Holzmair fought through the dryness of his voice to climb to a high point of inspiration and Cooper’s musically rich accompaniments gave him sustenance for the journey. A worthwhile close to the Schumann bicentenary. (

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www.wigmore-hall.org.uk

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