Christian Gerhaher/Gerold Huber – review

Wigmore Hall, London
Schumann's Dichterliebe showcased the virtues of the German baritone and his accompanist in their most concentrated form

There are some artists whose visits to these shores one should try never to miss. The outstanding German baritone Christian Gerhaher and his piano accompanist Gerold Huber now rank among this select group. Their Wigmore Hall recitals have become highlights of any season. This latest was no exception.

Over recent years, Gerhaher has tended – perhaps inevitably, and always with outstanding results – to focus on the songs of Schubert. These days, however, he seems keen to remind audiences of the breadth of his repertoire as well as the depth of his interpretative arts. This recital began with Schumann but then branched out into songs by Gabriel Fauré before returning to Germany with a new cycle, co-commissioned by the Wigmore, by Jörg Widmann.

Gerhaher first caught the attention a decade ago with a recording of Schumann's Dichterliebe and the cycle was inevitably the artistic high point of the evening.

Prefaced by the composer's more rarely performed Six Songs Op 107, a poignant group, Dichterliebe offered all of Gerhaher and Huber's many virtues in their most concentrated form. This included the lovely evenness of the singer's light baritone, his controlled mastery of dynamic range and his unaffectedly profound colouring of text, as well as Huber's limpidly thoughtful piano playing. Lieder singing doesn't come much better than this.

The Fauré songs came from a different world. The earliest, Le Papillon et la Fleur, from 1861, offered a taste of vocal frivolity after the intensity of the Schumann; it took Gerhaher a moment to adjust to singing in French, but three Verlaine settings and the harmonically restless Danseuse from 1919 were all beautifully realised, with Huber's accompaniments especially beguiling. The five completed songs of Widmann's cycle, first performed last week in Vienna by these same artists, came across like an affectionate and witty parody of the genre, with Gerhaher intoning the metrical texts while Huber crashed around the keyboard to bold effect. Gerhaher's encore restored high-mindedness with a solemnly exquisite Byron setting from Schumann's Myrten Op 25.

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Martin Kettle

The GuardianTramp

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