domingo, julio 14, 2013

Wolf on Mörike, a Lieder milestone

             "Lied" (plural "Lieder"): a song in the German vernacular (Willi Apel). Of the diverse types starting with the Medieval Minnesinger,  the Nineteenth-Century Lied  is better known.  After some valuable pieces from Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven, the  greatest of Lieder composers was Franz Schubert with his particular sensibility to words and uncanny perception of (pre-Freud) psychologism. Schumann gave us a masterpiece, "Dichterliebe" ("A poet´s love") and Brahms a vast number of Lieder, some of them marvelous. The last two greats of piano-accompanied Lieder were Hugo Wolf and Richard Strauss. Some (rather few) are with orchestra: in the latter category must be mentioned the marvelous cycles by Gustav Mahler and those astonishing "Four last Lieder" by Strauss, closing definitively the Late Romantic age after WWII.

            Hugo Wolf lived a tormented, short life (1860-1903). He had a difficult, irascible temper that led him to constant clashes with schools, the Vienna Conservatory, private disciples, theatres. But there was a positive side to him,  a warmth and intelligence that attracted friends who helped him economically or lodged him in Summer in idyllic mountain sites. His love affairs were vehement and frustrating. As a creator he had trouble in developing the larger forms; he only finished a long quartet, a symphonic poem ("Penthesilea") and an undramatic though beautiful opera, "Der Corregidor" (on Alarcón´s "The three-cornered hat", which inspired de Falla to write his wonderful ballet).

            He found his destiny in the art of Lied, where he showed a similar hypersensitivity to Schubert, but with Post-romantic harmony and even deeper psychological insights (he was a contemporary of Freud). He wrote during febrile short periods essentially from 1887 to 1891 and in 1896-7. His final years were sad: madness overtook him and he died paralytic. Wolf´s most important  series were inspired by poems by Eduard Mörike, Goethe and Eichendorff, plus his "Spanisches Liederbuch" on translations from Spanish poets and the "Italienisches Liederbuch" (ditto from Italy).

            Mörike (1804-75), a disciple of Goethe, is considered one of the best German lyric poets. Wolf published his 53 "Gedichte (poems) von Eduard Mörike" in 1888; there are also four scattered ones. He orchestrated eleven of them, but they are rarely heard in that guise. Both the poems and the music are astonishingly varied. Just a few examples: refined filigree ("Elfenlied"), melodic beauty and melancholy ("Verborgenheit"), humor and ironic waltz ("Abschied"), Christian lullaby ("Schlafendes Jesuskind"), dramatic phantasmagoric power ("Der Feuerreiter"). Small masterpieces all of them.

            The Fundación Música de Cámara is an admirable low-profile institution that has offered for decades very interesting programmes devised by their Artistic Director, Maestro Guillermo Opitz. They generally choose as venues embassies or the gorgeous Palace Sans Souci near San Fernando, but on this occasion they had at their disposal the very good acoustics of AMIJAI, that synagogue adjoining the Chinese Quarter which also functions as a first-rate concert hall.

            Opitz is the last of the great German teachers that flourished in our midst from the 1930s on. I deeply respect his work, and on this occasion his aim was really audacious and essential: the integral Wolf-Mörike in two sessions. As usual he prepared the singers and pianists with obsessive detail and knowledge of the style. I happen to agree with him about these Lieder: I think they are Wolf at their very best, and as the artists involved were generally well chosen (there were a couple of exceptions) these concerts were deeply satisfying. I have long cherished the vinyl album recorded by Fischer-Dieskau and Moore, but hearing these Lieder live is another sort of experience.

            One unfortunate circumstance: Oriana Favaro was ill in the second concert, and so the two Lieder assigned to her fell by the byway: "Frage und Antwort", "An eine Aeolsharfe". All the rest of the 53 were duly sung and played, but the four scattered ones weren´t included.

            Favaro was present in the first session, so we heard -counting both sessions- five sopranos, two mezzos, two tenors, three baritones and one bass, accompanied by eight pianists. In the first concert I particularly enjoyed Jaquelina Livieri, Favaro, María del Rocío Giordano, Mariana Rewerski, Lorena Cisneros and Walter Schwarz, whilst I especially liked the work of pianists Matías Galíndez, Valeria Briático and Demián Apicella. In the second, Cisneros, Daniela Tabernig, Santiago Bürgi in "Wo find´ich Trost", Gustavo Zahnstecher impressive in "Der Feuerreiter" and the combined talents of Zahnstecher and Schwarz in the final humoristic song, "Abschied". Also there was outstanding work from pianists Tomás Ballicora, Laura Daian and again Galíndez and Briático. Some piano parts are quite difficult.

            Seven Lieder telling funny or sarcastic stories were acted with some props and produced by Betty Gambartes with good taste; this is something that has often been done in earlier seasons with Lieder materials that are narrative, and I like it.

            There is room for further cycles, and I would particularly like one of the kaleidoscopic "Italienisches Liederbuch", where there are songs for men and women evoking Mediterranean moods and capsule plots about love and its shenanigans. The music is mercurial and captures every flight of imagination.  Another session could give us the best of the Goethe and Eichendorff Lieder, perhaps adding the three Michelangelo Lieder (Wolf´s last songs), and still another would offer us the sacred and profane "Spanisches Liederbuch". Wolf deserves it, and I can think of few projects that can so enrich interpreters and audiences.
For Buenos Aires Herald

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