Snape Maltings, Aldeburgh
Baritone Christian Gerhaher's quietly authoritative presence and way with words make him a compelling interpreter of lieder. At the Snape Proms, his delivery of two great German song cycles sung on different evenings – the first with piano accompaniment, and the second with orchestra – were illuminating. Both Schubert's Die Schöne Müllerin and Mahler's Lieder Eines Fahrenden Gesellen tell stories of ill-fated love, but in each it is the composers' balancing of the state of bliss against the pain of rejection that is so affecting.
The Maltings seems a massive space for the Schubert but, despite being slightly breathless, Gerhaher drew in the listener. Initially, pianist Gerold Huber's accompaniment felt pedantic, with the young wanderer's footsteps sounding clod-hopping; in retrospect, they seemed to have carried a note of doom, with the heartbreak of his demise and the brook's gentle lullaby bringing things full circle.
In Mahler's cycle, the protagonist is not much older or wiser, but Gerhaher's strength in this performance with the Britten-Pears Orchestra under Vasily Petrenko, was to suggest a more philosophical perspective. Now in more robust voice, Gerhaher was potent in Ich Hab' ein Glühend Messer, and poignant in the final song, Die Zwei Blauen Augen, seeking solace under the linden tree.
Having framed the Mahler with Wagner's Prelude und Liebestod from Tristan und Isolde and Shostakovich's First Symphony, Petrenko perceived the need to diffuse the anguish. He did it with Shostakovich's tongue-in-cheek arrangement of Tea for Two, Tahiti-Trot, considerably lightening the audience's step homeward.
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