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Notes from the 2014 Salzburg Festival ( 7 )
Liederabend • GerhaherHuber

Liederabend • Salzburg contemporary • Rihm • GerhaherHuber

To every Limit

Pictures (details) courtesy Salzburg Festival, © Silvia Lelli. Click to see full pictures.

When going to a GerhaherHuber recital, there is no need to look at the program beforehand: Anyone who knows and appreciates the “symbiotic duo” (Eleonore Büning) will go whatever they play, knowing that it will be predictably serious, intelligent fare, well put together, and of course performed to a standard that no one else exceeds. The closest Gerhaher has ever come to presenting a potpourri was his Mahler album with which, I assume, he also toured… so there you go. Gerhaher, is as per Büning’s eulogy* after the concert, when she aptly pointed it out, the best Lied-singer of our time: “everything he sings becomes alive and true. It is this that may be the highest merit that can be bestowed on any artist: the gift of absolute authenticity.”

This is true and known and, as mentioned, predictable, and consequently it becomes very boring to write about them… there is only a limited amount of superlatives and hyperbolic adjectives... so many GerhaherHuber recitals one hopes to live to hear, and the danger of (self)plagiarizing ever around the corner. One the other hand, one wouldn’t simply want to sit back and hope for the first deviation from excruciating excellence, and then go Ha-haa, like Nelson from the Simpsons.

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F.Schubert, "Nachtviolen"
C.Gerhaher & G.Huber
In this program in the steamy Haus für Mozart on Tuesday, August 5th, Gerhaher brought his  plaintive sounds of heartrending grays (verging, often enough, on the pitch black) to Goethe Songs by Schubert and Wolfgang Rihm. He likes to go for pain, not beauty, of course, as he did in “Who never at his bread with tears” from the Three songs of Gesänge des Harfners ‘aus Wilhelm Meister’. He turned from a patient suffering in “Wer sich der Einsamkeit ergibt” to a more aggressive, less patient tone, and Huber’s pianism felt as though through his sensitive pleading he meant to just keep a good friend on the right side of the emotional precipice. Rihm’s Goethelieder frames Goethe’s words in Rihm’s rhythm, in a musical language the difficulty of which seemed a logical extension from the bleak fare GerhaherHuber had already given us in the Schubert. Insistent, repetitive, minimalist, he gives the text in “Höchste Gunst” a whole new emphasis. “Aus Wilhelm Meisters Wanderjahren” in its halting and lost phrases was ever shadowy and abstract which contrasted almost surprisingly with the melodious soft swing of “Sehnsucht”, D.123. Into that, Huber sneaked a level of near-innocence onto the wings of the described raven, as he did bubbling murmur into the stanza that mentions a river (“Sie wandelt am Bach / Die Wiesen entlang”). And the last strophe of the “Shepard’s Lament” D.121 sounded truly like a lullaby.

The long, perhaps too long, program picked up, after intermission, with “Prometheus” D. 674 (what a wonderful troubled character for Gerhaher to sink his musical fangs into), and through it and “Mahomet’s Song” D.594 he went towards a light… a dawn… not outright sunshine. Not here, not in “Ganymede” (D.544), not in “An Schwager Kronos” D.369. The central work of the second half, and the reason why the concert was not just billed as one of the Liederabends but also as part of “Salzburg contemporary”, was Wolfgang Rihm again, with his “Winter Journey through the Harz Mountains” which got its Austrian premiere. Rihm composed a bitter-sweet music, like the text, and tailored it to the artists, exploring both the rough and even brutal tones, as well as a detached, child-like beauty. “Willkommen und Abschied” D.767, an encore (“Wanderer’s Nachtlied” II, after having already sung the first, D.224, earlier), a prize, and off he was into the night. Not really, actually, because he went on to sign CDs, but the cliché demands that he went off to some lair of intellectual despair, instead of a beer in gay company, which is much more likely what he and Huber did, good Bavarians that they are at heart.

The recital will be broadcast on Ö1 on August 20th, at 7.30PM CET.

* The Lifetime-so-far-Achievement-Preis der deutschen Schallplattenkritik that Eleonore Büning, as chairwoman of the German Record Critics' Award, handed over after the Liederabend at the Haus für Mozart went just to Gerhaher, who also does opera and oratorios, of course. He isn’t, admittedly, attached by the hip to his musical co-conspirator and pianist Gerold Huber, but every success in the Lied that is Gerhaher’s is also the success of Huber’s.