Vanitas: Lieder by Schubert, Beethoven and Rihm review | Andrew Clements's classical album of the week

Georg Nigl/Olga Pashchenko
Nigl’s controlled, supple voice is aided by Pashchenko’s fierce accompaniment in a thoughtful selection

The Austrian baritone Georg Nigl’s disc with pianist Olga Pashchenko mostly replicates a recital the pair gave at the Berlin festival in September last year. Their performance included the premiere of Wolfgang Rihm’s Vermischter Traum, settings of the German baroque poet and dramatist Andreas Gryphius, which are dedicated to Nigl. The sequence is framed by groups of Schubert songs – a mix of familiar numbers such as Die Forelle, An die Musik and Wandrers Nachtlied, with less well-known late songs – and precedes Rihm’s cycle with Beethoven’s An die ferne Geliebte.

Georg Nigl/Olga Pashchenko: Vanitas: Schubert, Beethoven & Rihm album cover
Georg Nigl/Olga Pashchenko: Vanitas: Schubert, Beethoven & Rihm album cover Photograph: Publicity image

The Gryphius songs were the first work Rihm completed while recovering from a serious illness that had brought a temporary halt to the flood of music he had produced over the previous five decades. Extracts from three sonnets provide the material for the seven songs; the mostly short texts dwell upon the transience of life, though they don’t include anything from Gryphius’s most famous poem, All Is Vanity, which provides the title for the disc. Rihm’s sinuous settings seem close to the world of early Schoenberg or Berg, constantly flirting with tonality as the piano provides a densely chromatic backdrop, and sometimes rising to fierce, angry climaxes.

Nigl’s performance is beautifully controlled, suave almost; his soft-grained voice wraps itself easily around Rihm’s smoothly contoured vocal lines. Pashchenko plays a modern Steinway for Vermischter Traum, but opts for a fortepiano, a modern copy of an 1819 Graf instrument, for Schubert and Beethoven. There’s an easy familiarity about their Schubert performances, an almost private intimacy in which nothing is overstated, but the Beethoven cycle never quite catches fire; some distinctly slow tempi, especially in the first song, don’t help. As a whole, though, it’s a thoughtful, rewarding collection.

This week’s other pick

Erinnerung, Christiane Karg’s first solo disc for Harmonia Mundi, is devoted to Mahler. Partnered by Malcolm Martineau, her selection includes the five Rückert Lieder, but otherwise focuses on early songs, with selections from Des Knaben Wunderhorn and the Lieder und Gesänge aus der Jugendzeit. Karg’s clear, bright soprano is better suited to the more pictorial Wunderhorn settings than to some of the more inward-looking Rückert songs, but her singing is always acutely sensitive, and she ends the disc with a fascinating novelty, two songs in which she is “accompanied” by Mahler himself, as recorded on piano rolls in 1910 and complete with some occasionally startling tempo changes.


Andrew Clements

The GuardianTramp

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