Five years ago, Christian Gerhaher and his regular pianist Gerold Huber released a disc of Mahler songs that sandwiched a selection of settings from Des Knaben Wunderhorn between the Lieder eines Fahrenden Gesellen and the Rückert Lieder. Their latest London recital followed the same template, except that here the group of Rückert songs was the Kindertotenlieder.
Perhaps because of the programme – there are few song cycles in the repertoire more achingly sad than Kindertotenlieder – it was a rather introverted affair. Gerhaher is never an artist to wear his heart on his sleeve, or to overdo the histrionics, but he nevertheless seemed more than usually restrained here, though his beauty of tone and subtle colouring of every phrase were as consistent as ever. Lieder eines Fahrenden Gesellen was effective in a detached way, with Gerhaher not so much taking the role of the young wayfarer as observing him from a distance, and Huber supplying vivid, spiky commentary. But, bracketing the interval, the 10 Wunderhorn songs – a mixture of the better known with some of the less-often heard ones – didn’t quite provide the expected contrast and variety, though the power that Gerhaher reserved for the final verse of Der Schildwache Nachtlied was startlingly effective.
Kindertotenlieder, though, was fascinating. The cycle sounds more modern and angular with piano accompaniment than it ever does with the cushion of an orchestra, and Huber made no attempt to mitigate its impact. Gerhaher, though, kept everything within bounds; whether subtly inflecting the rising and falling melodic lines of the opening number, Nun Will die Sonn or keeping the emotions of the final In diesem Wetter on a very short rein, it was never a performance than was going to draw many tears from the audience, however much they admired it.
• Repeated on 19 December. Box office: 020-7935 2141. Venue: Wigmore Hall, London.