Monday, March 17, 2014

The forgotten Romantic

Die schöne Müllerin - Carnegie Hall, 3/5/2014
Goerne / Eschenbach

Wozzeck - Metropolitan Opera, 3/6/2014
Goerne, Voigt, O'Neill, Hoare, Bayley / Levine

Thomas Hampson's illness (which continued through the following performance) brought together this strange but fruitful sequence of two evening performances at the start of the month.

Matthias Goerne gave his recital five days after a concert Wozzeck on the same Carnegie Hall stage, but neither he nor his audience knew, at the time of this Schubert performance, that the next day would bring him to a reprise of Berg's opera in a full Met staging. There was something nevertheless a bit of the dark later flavor to his Schubert. He and Eschenbach seemed from the start disinclined to a straightforward tracing of the cycle's course as they led off with little of that joy in rhythm and forward movement celebrated by its first song. Instead it was deep rapport with the brook -- river, it seemed here -- that quickly shaped the show, with the poems' external event and effect more incident and obstacle to the central element than their true carrier. And in that center was the recurring core of Goerne's lieder-singing greatness: his expression, in exquisite tones and breaths, of unqualified Romantic subjectivity itself. But here, with Goerne, the subjectivity doesn't -- as the song-cycle does on its face and as many have successfully performed it -- wish to adopt (or hide behind) the youthful naive manner of its protagonist, but instead presents & recognizes itself as coeval with the creation of the world, with the timeless water itself. If, say, Dorothea Röschmann embodies -- even in recital -- the tragic subjectivity of man in the onrushing moments of the story, Goerne embodies -- or at least is never without -- the prophetic subjectivity of man in the eternal moment of the storyteller.

It seemed a bit stark in the Schubert, but Goerne's similar work the night after brought out a surprising Romantic strain in Berg's Wozzeck. In sonic aesthetic, of course, it's no surprise: the beauty of Berg's writing has long been recognized, and with James Levine in the pit the orchestral background is an ever-present treat for the ear. In story, though, the proto-modern fragments of Büchner -- as turned into a newly coherent piece of modernist stagecraft by Berg 80+ years later -- have generally just been rendered as stark tragic compulsion: the human forces (and only, except for ironic purposes, the basest and most violent) on and of the poor title figure amplified by the natural ones of lunacy and death. With Goerne, however, Wozzeck's abjection does not quite efface his core innocent subjectivity, which periodically appears in flashes to make of him something like a Romantic wanderer in his own ruin of a life, or in the long-forgotten ruins of the Romantic itself. Here again he finds nature as the contrast and antidote to human perfidy, and if the water now only offers him the peace of death, well -- that's basically all that the miller boy got even back in the day. That nature has gone from babbling beloved confidante to eeriely and opaquely unfathomable presence is not, in Goerne's presence and singing, so much: he and it still seem to recognize each other as fellows, no matter what modes they now adopt.

It occurs to me that this hint of past perspectives is probably in fact more true to Büchner and Berg, each with the fire of Romantic subjectivity in him despite the expressions they felt compelled to adopt, than is the usual pathetic/compulsive reading. But more on the piece and the other performers after I see Hampson's version tonight.

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Absolutely no axe-grinding, please.