Baritone Mattias Goerne and pianist Markus Hinterhäuser collaborated on an intimate evening of Franz Schubert’s last song cycle [Schwanengesang being a posthumous collection by the publisher], Winterreise. Goerne resides at Tanglewood all week, in part to prepare for his weekend baritone solo role in Mahler’s Symphony No. 8 under Andris Nelsons, and for which he will wield the full power of his powerful, lyric baritone voice.
A native of Weimar, Germany, Goerne has assumed the mantle of successor to Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and doggedly embarked on a punishing schedule of song recitals and recordings (both live and in the studio), during the same years he has been invited to star in Tannhäser (Wolfram, Bavarian State Opera, 2012-13), Parsifal (Amfortas), and Wozzeck (Metropolitan Opera, 2014).
His interpretation of Schubert’s Winterreise, set in a snowy wasteland, was perfectly chilly and sparse for a cool summer’s eve at Ozawa Hall at Tanglewood. Goerne never wielded the full power of his instrument, exploring the myriad shadings of song and speech so typical of earlier landmarks Schubert interpretations such as Gerard Hüsch’s classic 1933 recording and the quieter of Fischer-Dieskau’s seven discs.
No stranger to modern approaches to Schubert, both Goerne and his excellent partner Markus Hinterhäser (returning to direct the Salzburg Festival next year) framed Winterreise with films by South African artist William Kentridge at sold-out performances for Amsterdam’s Holland Festival [here], in Aix-en-Provence, and in November 2014 recital in Alice Tully Hall [here] but this was an unadorned presentation, with the singer leaning in to the piano frequently and gesturing to the audience to advance his tales.
Although Ozawa Hall is quite large for a vocal recital, with the back wall fully open to the lawn, those seated outside could hear subtle nuances in the playing and singing due to light sound reinforcement hidden in the trees. In some ways, this might have been the best way to take in the recital: the night sky created a black-and-white landscape and made the distant performers (in a warm, richly glowing auditorium) a more faithful representation of Wilhelm Müller’s lonely wanderer.
Goerne has been partnering with several notable pianists recently, especially Christoph von Eschenbach, with whom he recorded these songs for Harmonia Mundi. The Chicago Symphony featured the pair in Schubert’s Die schöne Müllerin (requiring Eschenbach to fly back and forth on his single night off from conducting the BSO the same weekend), and Goerne also sang newly orchestrated German romantic songs with the CSO as part of their multi-concert Schubert Festival in February 2015. A frequent guest at Chicago’s Ravinia Festival, Goerne has performed six German Lieder recitals there and at Symphony Center since his debut in 2001.
Hinterhäuser’s flexibility matched Goerne’s expressivity, with long, painful pauses after verses ending on unresolved chords (esp. dominant seventh chords which Schubert would resolve in the next stanza). Both contrasted beautiful tone and falsetto singing/playing in hushed passages with growling intensity. They slowing most of the tempos to a stop to heighten the wanderer’s anguish, and to give us time, with them, to look out over the quiet landscape, into the unknown.