|Malcolm Martineau and Miah Persson at Zankel Hall (photo by Fadi Kheir)
What is a recitalist to do when her vocal partner becomes indisposed? Soprano Miah Persson was scheduled to give a recital with baritone Florian Boesch who was indisposed. We were not there behind the scenes to tell you how it went but we were in the audience in Zankel Hall and witnessed the end result. There was a revision in the program and in exchange for what we missed, we heard a lovely program from soprano Miah Persson who looks as beautiful as she sounds. One is not supposed to notice things like a singer's physical beauty but we confess it certainly adds to the experience.
Ms. Persson focused her program on songs by Schumann and was able to perform Frauenliebe und Leben in its entirety, a far better enterprise than singing excerpts. We love this cycle and never tire of it. We are always tuning our ears into the changes in a woman's life cycle and if Adalbert von Chamiso's text sounds sexist in our day and age, we care not a whit. It is fine for us to recognize how women's lives have changed and if 19th c. women derived their sense of self from the man that chose them, well, that's okay with us.
What we do miss, however, is what happened between the birth of the subject's baby and the husband's death. Perhaps he died prematurely but, never mind, it's a wonderful cycle and we hope we never have to hear it sung by a man! (LOL). Last night, Ms. Persson gave it all she had, and what she had was substantial. She captured the bedazzlement of a young woman meeting someone considered beyond her reach; she limned the incredulity of being chosen; she illustrated the call to maturity brought upon by her engagement followed by the excitement of the wedding which she shared with her sisters, whose childhood games she would leave behind.
Pregnancy brought new joys and the ecstasies of motherhood were beautifully captured; we cannot recall a more authentic performance of the phrase "Du lieber, lieber Engel, du, Du schauest mich an und lachelst dazu!" but it sounded so real that we wondered whether Ms. Persson has experienced motherhood herself. Likewise, we felt all the mixed emotions one feels when a life partner dies--there is anger at being abandoned, mixed with the grief of loss, and the feeling that life (at least as one knows it) has ended. Ms. Persson's effective coloring succeeded in showing the subject's maturation.
For us, this performance was the highlight of the evening and we greatly admire the manner in which Mr. Martineau gently supported the vocal line and the pathos of the postlude in which he repeats the melody of the first song "Seit ich ihn gesehen". Mr. Martineau has soft hands and a light touch; he is the perfect partner for Ms. Persson. His superb playing never ever upstages the singer and it is only when one submits to the mood of the song that one realizes the magnitude of his selfless contribution. Fortunately, Mr. Martineau had a solo on the program--Schumann's "Traumerei"--in which the silences spoke as effectively as the notes. We have noticed that in singers but rarely in the piano.
There were other wonderful Schumann songs. We particularly enjoyed the ethereal "Mondnacht" with Joseph von Eichendorff's evocative text; Mr. Martineau's prelude and interludes painted some exquisite aural pictures. Friedrich Ruckert's text for "Schneeglockchen" evoked a completely different but charming vision--that of the floral herald of Spring. Schumann had a real feel for Ruckert but Eduard Morike's "Er ist's" filled us with a similar but more passionate anticipation of Spring.
Ruckert's "Der Himmel hat eine Trane geweint" filled us with wonder and also makes us wonder why today's poets are producing such unlikeable poetry, leading to such unappealing settings! We also loved the charming "O ihr Herren" in which a poet, symbolized by a nightingale, seeks a quiet corner for his songs.
Robert's wife Clara appeared on the program as well with the passionate "Er ist gekommen" and the gentle strophic song "Liebst du um Schonheit". Although Mahler set the same text so beautifully, Clara's setting owes no one an apology. The melody remains in one's memory and pleases enormously.
Robert Schumann also set texts by Goethe and his music for "Nachtlied" amplifies the concise but pungent text.
Mary Stuart's words written prior to her death (translated into German by Gisbert Freiherr von Vincke) did not thrill us like the rest of the program. It was a grim way to end such a glorious recital and we were quite relieved by the beautiful encore which we believe was Edvard Grieg's "Jeg elsker dig" and which we believe was sung in Danish. Please overlook our inability to distinguish one Scandinavian language from another! In any event it lifted our sunken spirits.
As one may have expected from a Swedish soprano, there were six additional songs by the Norwegian Grieg on the program. Grieg was influenced by Schumann and had a vast output, although there are only a handful performed regularly on recital programs. We favored the delightful "Lauf der Welt", sung in German, with Mr. Marineau's frisky piano adding to the fun. Grieg wrote for his wife Nina and the ecstatic "Ein traum" is one of those thrilling songs that deals with love fulfilled.
Fulfilled might be the best word to describe how we felt at the conclusion of this fine recital. If we have failed to mention Ms. Persson's pleasing instrument and her musical phrasing, it is because we were most taken by her artistry as an interpreter.
(c) meche kroop