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Anna Maria Pammer, National Gallery

After performing a program of Lieder by composers of the Second Viennese School at the Austrian Embassy's An das Lied Festival on Wednesday, soprano Anna Maria Pammer and pianist Markus Vorzellner reprised the concert Sunday evening on the free concert series at the National Gallery of Art. A modest audience filled the small lecture hall on the West Building ground floor, which provided a more intimate venue than the regular West Garden Court. The ingenious program brought together rarely heard songs by the Viennese triumvirate of Arnold Schoenberg, Alban Berg, and Anton Webern.

Anna Maria Pammer, soprano
Anna Maria Pammer, soprano
It is a pleasure to hear this difficult music presented with such grace and authority by an Austrian duo, performing in their musical mother tongue, as it were. Pammer demonstrated a love of the poetry, in her clear diction and native pronunciation. While never making obvious gestures that would have undermined the abstract, opaque nature of the literary style, Pammer communicated the intimacy and urgency of the poems. Vorzellner's support at the piano provided the psychological background for the troubling words. In the first set of songs, Berg's Vier Lieder, op. 2, with texts by Friedrich Hebbel and Alfred Mombert, this was a post-chromatic, jazzy color. At the conclusion, with Berg's first fully atonal composition, Warm die Lüfte, Vorzellner's roaring glissando brought the air of repose crashing down as the narrator became agitated. The song ended with the voice in a low register, and a chord buzzing with dissonance.

All but the first group of songs set poems by Stefan George (1868-1933), a poet who might be described as a German symbolist who reconciled German modernism with classical poetry. He translated Dante, Shakespeare, and Baudelaire into German. Webern's much more pointillistic settings of George's poems, especially the Vier Lieder nach Stefan George, captured the disturbing, erotic tone -- just with George's ambiguous, homoerotic aesthetic shifted into a female voice. While Webern shows his characteristic economy in these songs from around 1908, Schoenberg's setting of the fifteen songs of Das Buch der hängenden Gärten, op. 15, is more intense and emotionally direct. The climax of the cycle was the paean to pure lust, Wenn ich heut nicht deinen Leib berühre (If I do not touch your body today), with its agitated piano accompaniment incarnating the narrator's feverish passion. The final song was wreathed by a gorgeous prelude in piano and a long, somber postlude.

The free concert series at the National Gallery of Art continues this week with a Wednesday recital by pianist Tao Lin (May 9, 12:10 pm) in the East Building Auditorium and a Sunday concert by the National Gallery Chamber Players String Quartet and pianist Miceal O'Rourke (May 13, 6:30 pm).

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