|Michael Gees and Anna Lucia Richter|
We heard a very special recital last night at Weill Recital Hall. What made it special was not just the high quality of the performances but the fact that it was largely improvised! Jazz lovers are accustomed to improvisation but we lovers of classical music are not. The very idea of classically trained musicians making things up as they go along is novel. The successful execution of the concept left us stunned in amazement.
The extemporized duets were interlaced with previously composed songs, many of which were happily based on folk music, which always provides a lovely melody. Many of the songs on the program and all of the improvised ones utilized texts by Joseph Eichendorff. There were songs by Britten which we enjoyed more than most of his other vocal music, and several selections from Robert Schumann's Liederkreis, which we always love to hear. A few settings by Brahms also made it onto the program.
What was so amazing was that each half of the program was performed without a pause, one song melting into the next. There were no abrupt transitions to break the mood. The improvised songs were initiated by one member of the duo with the other joining in with relevant musical material. Each musical partner seemed to deeply feel the text and to listen intently to the other and to meld voices. Eichendorff's "Wunschelrute" appeared twice on the program, sounding different! The English translation is worth quoting.
"A song sleeps in all things
That dream on and on
And the world begins to sing
If only you strike upon the magic word."
Soprano Anna Lucia Richter has an unusual soprano--bright and focused, yet delicate. We imagined our ears were being penetrated by a feather. There were high notes, the overtones of which lingered like an echo, a phenomenon we never noticed before. Her immersion in the text was so complete she seemed lost in the music. We have heard teachers of master classes instruct students to never close their eyes; and yet, in this case, it did not seem to shut out the audience.
We have complained bitterly about the use of music stands but opined that it was probably necessary when Ms. Richter was improvising on one of the Eichendorff poems. She was composing in her head as she went along, inspired by Michael Gees' piano which sometimes led and sometimes followed. It was haunting and evocative music they were creating right in front of us!
Aside from the improvised selections, there were a number of standouts on the program. Schumann's "Waldesgesprach" was given a very personal reading with all the colors of the arrogant suitor and the beautiful but vengeful hexe Loreley. We also enjoyed Brahms' "Ich weiss mir'n Maidlein hubsch und fein" from Deutsche Volkslieder, No. 40. The first encore "Och Mod'r, ich well en ding han!" was absolutely delightful and delivered in authentic Koln dialect. (Ms. Richter comes from Koln). A daughter is very irritated with her mother who is unable, at least until the last stanza, to divine just what it is that the girl wants.
Michael Gees is an unusual pianist with abundant subtlety and inventiveness. Just imagine recreating the world of 19th c. German Romantic nationalism in the 21st century without sounding derivative! Being able to utilize the expressive texts of Eichendorff and to convey such feeling was a remarkable achievement. Some improvisations should be committed to paper and published as part of the canon.
We would like to say something about the second encore which was improvised and purported to be from Des Knaben Wunderhorn. We have searched online for a text about a "verschwunden Sternlein" without success. If any readers know of it, please provide information in the comments below.
(c) meche kroop