Saturday, 21 January 2017

Wigmore Hall Fortepiano Schubert : Georg Nigl Andreas Staier


The Wigmore Hall complete Schubert song series continued with a recital by Georg Nigl and Andreas Staier.  Staier's a pioneer, promoting the use of fortepiano in Schubert song.  In Schubert's time, modern concert pianos didn't exist. Schubert and his contemporaries would have been familiar with a lighter, brighter sound. Over the last 30 years, we've come to better understand Schubert and his world through the insights Staier has given us. His many performances, frequently with Christoph Prégardien at the Wigmore Hall, have always been highlights.  For this recital, he was joined by Georg Nigl, an Austrian baritone, who once was a soprano soloist with the Wiener Sängerknaben. Perhaps that background shaped Nigl's finely detailed approach, which suited Staier's restrained but expressive style.  In a programme focused on mainly early Schubert, the balance was nicely poised.

Early Schubert, though, isn't always showcase material, except perhaps to devotees, who relish it dearly.  Schubert's Andenken D99 (1814) will always be outshone by Beethoven's setting of  the same poem, though on its own terms it's a delicate piece of youthful innocence.  Nigl and Staier presented a set of six Schubert settings of Friedrich Matthisson (1767-1831) which Schubert set between 1813 and 1814, almost certainly being aware of Beethoven' settings of Matthisson.  Schubert's admiration for Beethoven knew no bounds, but, apart from Andenken, he was cautious enough to set poems other than those Beethoven chose. The  Matthisson songs Nigl and Staier performed included lively spook tales like Die Schatten D50, Geistenähe D100 and Der Geistertanz D116, but the rather more sophisticated poetry of Der Abend (Purpur malt die Tannenhügel.) D108 inspired a lyricism which clearly suggests Schubert's idiomatic style.

Georg Nigl, photo: Bernd Uhlig
The Matthisson settings were followed by six settings of Ludwig Heinrich Christoph Hölty (1748-1760), whom Brahms was to set so well. Schubert's Hölty settings include An den Mond D193, but here we heard the lovely Die Mainacht D194 (1815),  Frühlingslied D398 (1816), and Die Knabenzeit D400 (1816) where the instrumental line dances with cheerful vigour. Staier's playing was meticulously lucid, never over-dominant, and responsive to Nigl, who has an attractive voice but may have been unwell. He looked flushed.  We all get sick sometimes, and singers are no different.  
At moments his voice filled out well.  The words "Freud' ist überall" from Erntelied D 424 (1816) soared nicely, suggesting how Nigl might sound when on form.

With Abschied "Über die Berg zieht fort" D475 (1816) after the interval, Nigl's voice at last blossomed. The song is dear to him, as he said after the recital, repeating it with even greater poise as an encore.  The gentle cadences in this song revealed the richness of Nigl's voice at the lower end of his register. Staier shaped the delicate triplets and firm single chords with plangent finesse.  Staier's recording of Schubert's Mayrhofer songs with Christoph Prégardien , made in 2001, is still an essential choice for any Schubert lover, so it was interesting to hear him with Nigl, who, though a baritone,  has a lighter timbre than many.  Apart from Abschied and Nachstück D D672 (1819), Staier and Nigl performed Orest und Tauris D548 (1817) Erlafsee D685 (1817) and Beim Winde D669 (1819).  Staier also recorded Schubert Seidl settings with Prégardien, so it was a delight to hear him again, now with Nigl, in old favourites like Der Wanderer am Mond  D870 (18126) Das Zügenglöcklein D 871 (1826), Am Fester D878 (1826) and Irdisches Glück D 866/4 (1828). These late songs, though technically demanding, are also easier on the ear than some of the early songs, thus always welcome.  

Nigl and Staier concluded with two settings of Franz von Schober, Schubert's raffish companion, Genügsamkeit D143 (1815) and Schiffers Schiedelied D 910 (1827), the driving "ocean waves" in the piano part sounding rather livelier on fortepiano than they would on some keyboards.  Heavy pedalling makes heavy weather ! The singer shouldn't drown. Neither song is a masterpiece, though they are worth knowing. As a friend observed "Genügsamkeit" doesn't mean "contentment" but a double edged feeling of having "enough" to be happy with, though you wouldn't mind having more.

This review also appears in Opera Today

1 comment:

Patricia Jones said...

Wolfgang Brunner writes informatively on forte-piano in song, for a CD in which he accompanies a mix of Gluck, CPE Bach and early Schubert (sung by Holzmair and a young soprano, Stephanie Steger). I hadn’t realised how quickly forte pianos had evolved - he doubts whether instruments in music salons would have kept pace, so one can never know exactly what sound Schubert himself heard! Clearly it wasn’t a Steinway grand.