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Experimental feature

Schubert and Ives were promised for Matthias Goerne’s latest London recital, one of the German baritone’s typically daring programme ideas. Without warning the Ives was dropped. Apparently the idea had not worked as Goerne intended. That took daring too.

The resulting all-Schubert programme had a random look. But that is to count without Goerne’s interpretative vision and his inspirational partnership with Ingo Metzmacher. Together they produced one of the most memorable recitals of recent years.

Conductors rarely have time to be accompanists but the few that make time – Wolfgang Sawallisch, Donald Runnicles and Antonio Pappano are obvious examples – have a rare gift. Metzmacher is one of them. Could it be that they are used to working on equal terms with singers and sparking them creatively? But they never draw attention to themselves as star pianists often do.

From the first song Metzmacher wreathed the music in sublime tones. “Meeres Stille” was crisply articulated yet imbued with the subtlest feeling, a combination that translated equally well to the proto-Wagnerian lyricism of “Blondel zu Marien”, the bel canto line of “Die Gebüsche” and the lilting rhythms of “Das Heimweh”.

The advantage of an all-Schubert selection is that it gives you time to go beyond Goerne’s self-absorbed manner and inside his creative psyche. Rather than seeking the listener out by eyeballing the auditorium and pointing up contrasts of word and timbre, he calls you in to a mood, so that you have to do much of the work. Only then does he reward you.

On the surface the distinctions between each line and each song are minimal but those minimal shifts become much more powerful. It is art concealing art – the simplest artistry turning out to be the most sophisticated.

On that principle the song recital takes on quasi-spiritual proportions, the music’s transcendental arc gradually gaining precedence. That may be why the poet’s emotional turmoil in “Der Hirt” was so affecting; why the stillness of the final two songs, “Der Kreuzzug” and “Abschied”, was so appropriate. Beyond that there was nothing left to say.

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The performance will be repeated tonight (Thursday, February 22).

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