Thursday, December 03, 2009

The happy recitalist

Recital (Brahms, Wolf, Hahn, Mahler) -- Alice Tully Hall, 11/29/09
Kirchschlager / Jones

Perhaps it was Warren Jones (for Malcolm Martineau), perhaps the greater notice that it was to be a solo recital, perhaps something else, but Austrian mezzo-soprano Angelika Kirchschlager's performance yesterday was quite the opposite of the uncomfortable forced march she led through Romantic song three years ago. On this Sunday both she and her program were poised, forward, and lively -- a much happier combination.

Not that the atmosphere was wholly placid: in fact, the whole event was charged (particularly at the start) with a certain nervousness that contrasted interestingly with the calm sonic appeal of Kirchschlager's singing. And yet at every point she seemed bent on turning this energy into an impeccable joy -- and it mostly worked. Even the coughing that prompted an awkward admonishment from her last time this time prompted a joke, as she spoke of wanting to cough herself between songs and then actually doing so (to much laughter).

Instead of -- as last time -- a long jumble of Schumann followed by a long jumble of Schubert, Kirchschlager and Jones did four later-Romantic groups of songs: 7 by Brahms, 6 by Wolf (from the Mörike set), Hahn, and Mahler (from Des Knaben Wunderhorn). The Brahms was well-sung but perhaps a bit too insistently presented to capture his full appeal, but the rest of the program suited Kirchschlager's strengths as a performer.

Her best expressiveness, I think, is musical: she's game for all sorts of turns and elaborations on her pleasant sound. Her acting is well-judged, well-shaded and hardly inhibited but more self-effacing than overpowering either in her own persona or in the characters'. And the words are -- well, perhaps this was the cause of some nervousness. For whatever reason she seemed to be battling them a bit, not only changing (from, I assume, memory lapse) but blurring the German from time to time, if not quite swallowing the text wholesale in the sometime manner of Matthias Goerne.

On the whole, despite both word slips and a certain unease on high notes, Kirchschlager served the late Romantic program well. The highlight, I think, was in the Wolf songs, where she perfectly caught the mix of reverie and ecstasy of "Auf einer Wanderung" to begin a set that finished with his more single-mindedly rapt (than Schumann's familiar version) setting of "Er ist's".

She finished with two encores, though I'm afraid I've the first has already slipped my mind. The second was Brahms' famous lullaby, a fine send-off. Warren Jones, with whom Kirchschlager seemed to have good rapport, was as ever both an expressive and delightfully precise accompanist.

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Absolutely no axe-grinding, please.