Louis Schwizgebel, Zsolt Hamar, Hungarian National Philharmonic
Veress / Liszt
Lucerne, KKL, 2018-11-28
In Lucerne’s KKL (Culture and Convention Center Lucerne) again, this time—once more—for a concert organized by Migros Kulturprozent Classics. At the core of the performance was the Hungarian National Philharmonic Orchestra, led by its musical director, Zsolt Hamar (*1968, see also Wikipedia). This is Hungary’s most prestigious orchestra, residing in Budapest, and founded back in 1923. Zsolt Hamar had been first permanent conductor of the orchestra since 1997, upon invitation by its musical director, the late Zoltán Kocsis (1952–2016). After Kocsis’ death, he became the orchestra’s musical director.
The KKL’s Salle blanche was fairly well-sold for this concert. My wife and I had stall seats in row 21, left side, acoustically optimal, and high enough to have a good view onto the orchestra (the floor is descending towards the podium).
Besides the main program with works by Sándor Veress and Franz Liszt, Migros Kulturprozent Classics organized a half-hour “pre-concert“, starting one hour prior to the main event. With this, the overall program looked as follows:
- Pre-Concert (18:30): “Our Stars of Tomorrow” — Alexandre Beuchat, baritone
- Sándor Veress (1907 – 1992): Threnos in memoriam Béla Bartók (1945)
- Franz Liszt (1811 – 1886): Piano Concerto No.1 in E♭ major, S.124
- Encore — Liszt: Consolation No.3 in D♭ major, S.172/3
- Encore — Liszt: Consolation No.3 in D♭ major, S.172/3
- Franz Liszt (1811 – 1886): A Faust Symphony in three character pictures, S.108
The Soloist: Louis Schwizgebel, Piano
Besides the Hungarian National Philharmonic and its director, Zsolt Hamar, the concert—the second one of two on subsequent days—featured a soloist: the young Swiss pianist Louis Schwizgebel (*1987, see also Wikipedia). Schwizgebel was born in Geneva, into a Swiss-Chinese family. At age 9 already, he started studying at the Lausanne Conservatory, in the class of Brigitte Meyer (*1944), making his soloist diploma at age 15. Further studies led him to Pascal Devoyon (*1953) at the Universität der Künste Berlin. Also, at the Juilliard School, he learned in the class of Emanuel Ax (*1949). Finally, he also spent some time at the Royal Academy of Music in London, in the class of Pascal Nemirovski (*1962).
Louis Schwizgebel has won prizes at several competitions, starting in 2003, with the first prize and the Paderewski prize at the Swiss Youth Music Competition, in 2005, he won the second prize and the audience award at the Concours de Genève (first prize not awarded). The series of competition wins continued, culminating in the second prize at the Leeds International Piano Competition in 2012. Louis Schwizgebel has since started a successful career as concert pianist and now lives in London. Besides his musical talent, he is also known for being a gifted magician and maker of Origamis.
Veress: Threnos in memoriam Béla Bartók (1945)
The Swiss-Hungarian composer Sándor Veress (1907 – 1992) began his studies in Budapest, where Béla Bartók (1881 – 1945) and Zoltán Kodály (1882 – 1967) were his teachers. He later was Bartók’s assistant for the work on the anthology of Hungarian folk music. In 1949, Veress emigrated to Switzerland. There, he spent the rest of his life and acquired the Swiss citizenship a few months before he died.
The composition Threnos in memoriam Béla Bartók is a result of Veress’ reaction to the news of Bartók’s death on 1945-09-26. Threnos (ancient Greek, meaning a mourning song on the death of a loved being) was written over a very short time—it premiered in Budapest, in 1945. Threnos is Veress’ last significant work prior to his emigration to Switzerland in 1949. In lieu of further quoting about the composition, I refer to descriptive remarks in the performance notes below.
The program booklet mentions that in 1960, the Polish composer Krzysztof Penderecki (*1933) also created a work named Threnos (Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima), for 52 string instruments, in memory of the victims of the atomic bomb in Hiroshima, in 1945.
As Veress’ composition is rarely heard in concert, the notes below are focusing on describing the music, the listening experience, rather than trying to qualify the performance.
The appearance of the orchestra on stage was well-organized, giving an excellent first (visual) impression. The orchestral arrangement had the two violin voices (ca. 14 + 14) on the left, followed by around 10 violas, 8 cellos on the right, and 6 double basses a little further back.
The Performance / the Listening Experience
The one, prominent characteristic of this work is the constant “heartbeat” from the timpani: mostly pp, calm, very steady, with one single interruption in the middle of the piece (see below). After the first few beats, the strings (violins first) join in, with simple, folk-like cantilenas, like a canon. The wind instruments gradually add color and intensity, the brass instruments and cymbals set stronger accents. Veress uses Eastern tonalities, rather than the major / minor duality that we are used to.
There is very little, if any harmonic progression: also harmonically, the music is resting in itself, in its somewhat melancholic atmosphere. Tension, a sense of anxiety maybe, is gradually adding in, the intensity grows, also in the melody line, which the high strings play all in unison. The tension increases up to an dense climax, then the music stops for an almost scary, long general rest.
A Fresh Start
Hesitatingly, the strings take a fresh start by introducing a new rhythmic pattern, to which they return after a short melodic outburst. The cor anglais plays a short, sad melody into “standing” dissonances, then percussion and strings gradually resume a steady heartbeat. More Eastern folk-like melodies, typically all in unison join in, tonal in an unusual way, yet more and more comforting, forming a warm, serene atmosphere (the width of Hungarian landscape?), yet retaining a constant tension, unnoticeably returning to the heartbeat on the timpani, with which the music slowly and silently dies off.
Whoever thought that Sándor Veress’ music would be a challenging piece to start a concert could not be farther off: it’s music full of tension, very easy to grasp & understand, never, ever boring, nor ever really dissonant or noisy. One can almost touch the sad, mourning feelings & atmosphere in this music. And Zsolt Hamar and his orchestra had all the necessary engagement, the calm and steadiness to give this a masterful, both thrilling and touching interpretation.
Franz Liszt (1811 – 1886) wrote his Piano Concerto No.1 in E♭ major, S.124 between 1830 (first sketches) and 1856 (publication). The premiere took place 1855 in Weimar, with the composer at the piano and Hector Berlioz (1803 – 1869) conducting. Liszt clearly wrote this concerto to “show off” his pianistic abilities. The work therefore features substantial technical challenges. At the same time, Liszt knew exactly what “sounds good” on the piano, and how to impress the audience. In sum, it’s a true pianistic showpiece. At the same time, the concerto deviates from traditional form principles. It consists of four movements, whereby in recordings, artists often treat movements 2 & 3 as one.
- Allegro maestoso (4/4)
- Quasi adagio (12/8) — L’istesso tempo (4/4) —
- Allegretto vivace (3/4) — Allegro animato (2/2)
- Allegro marziale animato (4/4) — Più mosso — Alla breve, più mosso (2/2) — Più Presto — Presto
The instrument was a Steinway model D-274 concert grand.
I. Allegro maestoso
No, this wasn’t the almost brutal opening statement that one my have in mind from other interpretations. Not “Das versteht ihr alle nicht, haha!” (i.e., “none of you understands this, haha!”)—a transliteration which I believe is attributed to Hans von Bülow (1830 – 1894). It was merely a firm opening “fanfare” of sorts, without exaggeration, and not pompous. It felt as if Hamar wanted to leave it up to Louis Schwizgebel to “define” the character of this piece.
And indeed: the pianist offered an interpretation that was far from the titanic keyboard thundering that one often hears in this music. Rather, to me, his performance overall reflected his tall, slender stature, the agility of the magician that he also is. He did not force the speed in the challenging octave parallels of the first solo, and in the course of the initial cadenza, he took the volume back, giving the music a lyrical note, momentarily almost like a Nocturne! Then again, he played the cascading figures towards the end of that first cadenza at blazing speed. And the subsequent melodies were singing with utter lyricism—in close interplay / dialog with the clarinet and the string soloists.
The above does not mean that he lacked power: before [C], when the octave parallels return, he certainly also demonstrated powerful playing, with emphasis. Schwizgebel’s performance was always differentiated in the agogics. And it followed Liszt’s detailed tempo annotations. But the most astounding aspect in this movement remained his both playful and lyrical moments, the singing. Where others may see extroverted virtuosity in brilliant scales up and down the keyboard, Schwizgebel made those feel elegant and at the same time lyrical.
II. Quasi adagio — L’istesso tempo —
The muted strings made the singing tone in the solo stand out even more: a beautiful cantabile, plenty of agogics / rubato, carefully tuned to the cantilena, refined to the extreme—and then very expressive, very “speaking” in the recitative section. Sure, for a momentary ff, Schwizgebel “took matters into his hands”—just to return to the “lyrical mode”, with all its diligence, utter refinement and differentiation. And all the melodies remained closely coordinated with the orchestra: imitations used the same agogics, the same rubato.
III. Allegretto vivace — Allegro animato —
Utmost agility, elegance, flashing motifs in glittering chains, and the triangle of course amplified the glittering aspect! 14 bars after [H], the score has stringendo; here, soloist and orchestra fittingly switched to a faster pace already after 6 bars (scherzando). Schwizgebel kept the pp at the Un poco marcato prior to the Allegro marcato. He made the returning initial theme appear like a distant reminiscence. Also, when the descending octave parallels return, the soloist remains truthful to the p staccato sempre annotation, keeping his part subtle and differentiated, even slowing down towards the sotto voce in the orchestra.
Then, Liszt takes us back to the beginning of the concerto: here, Schwizgebel played with more strength, and a little more straight (with less rubato): a powerful re-confirmation of the beginning. But even after the dramatic stringendo, when the tension felt almost unbearable, the final fff solo was not overpowering. It is a climax, though, that discharges into the final movement:
IV. Allegro marziale animato — Più mosso — Alla breve, più mosso — Più Presto — Presto
The ff strepitoso in the piano was definitely somewhat lighter again, the subsequent, long solo felt playful, more than virtuosic show. As the Più mosso approached, Louis Schwizgebel seemed to drive the music forward, reaching almost hair-rising speed, yet sticking to the sempre accelerando in the score. An excellent performance, especially through the absence (almost) of extroverted show effects!
Encore — Liszt: Consolation No.3 in D♭ major, S.172/3
As encore, Louis Schwizgebel selected a peaceful piece by—Franz Liszt, what else? From Liszt’s 6 Consolations (Six pensées poétiques), S.172, he played the No.3 in D♭ major. Liszt had originally composed a set of six Consolations in 1844 – 1849 (at the same time as the 10 pieces in his Harmonies poétiques et religieuses, S.173). Liszt never published the initial Consolations. They appeared in print in 1992 only (!) and are now listed as S.171a. In 1849/1850, Liszt reworked the set and published it in 1850. Consolation No.3 now has the annotation Lento placido. It is the most popular piece in the collection.
The Wikipedia article mentions the close resemblance of this piece to the Nocturne in D♭ major, op.27/2 by Frédéric Chopin (1810 – 1849). Liszt’s music may indeed be a tribute to Chopin, who died the year before this was published.
After the excitement in Liszt’s piano concerto (especially its enthralling ending), it was such a good idea to offer relief, to let the audience calm down with this peaceful music! Louis Schwizgebel’s interpretation was entirely relaxed, very atmospheric (but never exceedingly sweet or sugary). He performed with extreme subtlety, a beautiful, singing cantilena in the descant, and with such enchanting agogics—a true highlight of the evening!
Back to Franz Liszt (1811 – 1886) for the single, large work after the intermission: “A Faust Symphony in three character pictures”, S.108. In this large “Symphony”, Liszt depicts the three main characters in the drama “Faust” by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749 – 1832). Liszt composed this work for the inauguration of the Goethe-Schiller monument in Weimar, in 1857. As indicated, the three movements are
The last movement features an optional segment with choir, which obviously didn’t come to play in this performance.
The actual challenge of the evening wasn’t Sándor Veress’ piece that opened the evening. Rather, it was in the large dimensions of Liszt’s Faust Symphony, and in the fact that Liszt doesn’t use much of a “closed” structure, such as a sonata form, with thematic development. Rather, Liszt used the technique of Leitmotifs, and a much more open form. And it’s long! One could feel this already from the amount of coughing in the audience (and often at the most inappropriate moments).
Apart from this symphony forming an “endurance challenge”, the overall duration of the concert ended up being over 2.5 hours. Migros Kultprozent Classics had arranged for several extra trains to allow people from Berne and Western Switzerland to return home safely. Still, after the second movement, an partial exodus appeared to happen, as people both in the parquet seating, as well as on balconies were lining up to reach the exit—and this continued during the performance. I was glad to see that Zsolt Hamar and the Hungarian National Philharmonic were able to ignore this disruption (which was rather irritating to the people who stayed).
Lento assai —
The orchestra captured the listener’s attention right from the start, with very careful, subtle dynamics and phrasing in the restrained, mysterious beginning. That music is extremely delicate in the intonation—not just within instrument groups (e.g., violins and cellos in soft unison), but also in the width of intervals (e.g., lead intervals, etc.). Here, the intonation was flawless, and I had the impression that Hamar & the orchestra carefully and consciously defined the pitch of lead tones, which proved essential for the tension that built up during the Lento assai introduction.
Allegro impetuoso —
With the Allegro impetuoso, the mutes were removed, the sound and the character of the music suddenly had “grip” and quickly gained drive and momentum. I noted the coherent, smooth sound of the string voices, the full, warm and expressive sound of wind instruments such as the bassoon, clarinets, or the flute. Not only the strings were very homogeneous, but the orchestra as a whole exhibited an excellent balance in sound.
Meno mosso, misterioso e molto tranquillo — Affettuoso, poco Andante — Allegro con fuoco —
I experienced the interpretation as atmospheric, often enthralling, dramatic as if following the libretto of an imagined action on stage, possibly even the course of dialogs in Goethe’s drama. And at all times, Zsolt Hamar, appeared as an integral part of the orchestra, forming one single organism, providing a coherent performance. And the orchestra “lived” the rubato that the composer expected in this music.
Grandioso, poco meno mosso — Tempo I, Allegro agitato assai — Come prima, Allegro agitato ed appassionato assai —
Here, one could almost “feel” the action on an imagined stage—and Zsolt Hamar managed to span the long, dramatic arches, never, ever dropping the tension, also across soft sections.
Lento assai — Andante mesto —
A particular challenge in this mysterious, restrained section is in keeping the tension (and there wasn’t a single boring moment in this performance!), as well as in the intonation. In the softest parts, there were occasional, very subtle divergencies between woodwinds and strings. This was hardly noticeable at all, especially as the tension started building up again, even in the apparent, momentary absence of “stage action”.
Allegro agitato ed appassionato molto — Affettuoso, poco Andante — Maestoso —
The drama evolved in waves—gripping, and with excellent coordination in the strings, especially where the expression was boiling! Then again, the Affettuoso, the solo viola had the opportunity to demonstrate its warm sonority. That said: the orchestra doesn’t appear to feature “primadonnas“: everybody served the music, the composer. This was of particular importance in the long “holding” section prior to the long build-up to the climax. Here, the string sound remained covered, dark, even the pizzicati (p, tranquillo) in the low strings.
Poco a poco animando sino al fff — Allegro con fuoco — Andante maestoso assai — Piu mosso, molto agitato
The tension appears to reach momentary resolution, though Liszt leaves no doubt that the drama remains open, continues to develop, even after the movement closes in the faintest pp, pizzicato in the basses. In an admirable way, Zsolt Hamar was able not lose control over the overall structure in all of this long, half-hour movement.
A very intimate beginning, with its delicate, finest woodwind solos, with excellent, smooth sonority (especially in the clarinets) down to pp and below, then joined by the solo viola, later small groups of string instruments from the other voices. A beautiful piece of serene chamber music, evolving over a very long, continuous arch. Only around the climax, brass and tremolos give an indication of the emotional drama. Zsolt Hamar and the orchestra once more were able to keep up the tension across the movement, and across the prominent general rests. They all also mastered the intonation challenges in the many combinations of extremely exposed solo voices, and to keep the recitative parts (strings, winds) towards the end “talking”.
Allegro vivace, ironico — Sempre Allegro — Allegro vivace — Un poco animato — Alla breve — Sempre animato —
Those who left the venue early missed the suspense, the drama, the theater in this final movement! In its gradual, often mysterious, more and more busy build-up, the music sometimes reminded me of a diabolic ride to hell. But the scenery, the tempo, the atmosphere keep changing, never remains uniform for longer periods.
Sempre più di fuoco — Sempre Allegro animato — Alle breve — Allegro — Allegro vivace — Allegro non troppo, ma deciso assai
In many aspects, the piece is virtuosic, even an orchestral showpiece, challenging in coordination through frequent changes in rhythm and tempo, clarity in articulation, and transparency. Not only the orchestral discipline and coordination were astounding, but also the sound quality, e.g., in the faintest, softest and most discreet horn passages.
I was happy to note that Zsolt Hamar was able to ignore the irritations from the audience (see above), bringing his masterful performance to a compelling closure!
Overall Rating: ★★★★½
Encores — Bartók: Nos.1 & 5 from Hungarian Pictures, Sz.97, BB 103
As Zsolt Hamar explained to the diluted audience, being Hungarians, conductor and orchestra could not let the audience go without performing a work by Béla Bartók (1881 – 1945). Especially given the reference to Bartók in Veress’ composition that started the evening. Hamar selected two movements from Bartók’s “Hungarian Pictures”, Sz.97, BB 103, sometimes also referred to as “Hungarian Sketches” (Hungarian: Magyar képek). This is a collection of five short pieces:
- An Evening in the Village (from “Ten Easy Pieces”, Sz.39, BB 51, No.5)
- Bear Dance
- Slightly Tipsy
- Swineherd’s Dance (from “For Children”, Sz.42, BB 53, Vol.2, No.40)
As indicated in the list, Zsolt Hamar selected the first and the last of these pieces.
With this, orchestra and conductor closed the circle, returning to the truly Hungarian origin of Sándor Veress’ composition that started the performance: very atmospheric, intermittently dancing, slightly melancholic. And it was undeniably Hungarian in the rhythm, the frequent rhythmic shifts, especially in the Swineherd’s Dance, which alternated between joyful dancing and clumsiness. True fun pieces!
A most interesting concert, from beginning to end, indeed!
Pre-Concert: Alexandre Beuchat, Baritone
Alexandre Beuchat earned his Master degree of Arts in Performance from the Hochschule Luzern (Lucerne University of Applied Sciences and Arts), where he studied in the class of Barbara Locher. Besides singing, he also studied violin playing and attended master classes with notable artists, such as Ton Koopman (*1944). He has since started a career as solo singer, focusing on oratorio (Bach, Handel, Schütz, Orff, Monteverdi, Haydn) and Lied recitals. In the season 2015/2016, Alexandre Beuchat was a member of the Ensemble at the Lucerne Theater. Since 2016, he is a permanent member of the Ensemble of the Volksoper Wien, and this year, he has had his stage debut at the Wiener Staatsoper.
Alexandre Beuchat’s partner at the piano was Marija Bokor (*1992). Marija grew up in St.Gallen, in a family of musicians (Robert Bokor is a conductor and violinist, her mother Milica Bokor is a cellist). She started playing the piano at age 5. Her education followed the tradition of the Russian piano school. After studies in Feldkirch, Austria, her education continued in the private class of Oliver Schnyder (*1973). She attended master classes with artists such as Leon Fleisher (*1928), Robert D. Levin (*1947), Santiago Rodriguez (*1952), Homero Francesch (*1947), Hamish Milne (*1939), and Arbo Valdma (*1942). Marija currently is studying at the Hochschule Luzern (Lucerne University of Applied Sciences and Arts) in the class of Konstantin Lifschitz (*1976).
After winning prizes at several regional and international competitions, Marija Bokor also was a recipient of the 2013 Migros Kulturprozent Study Award. Marija has launched a successful career as soloist, performing throughout Europe, in Turkey, Israel, the Americas, and China.
The Recital Program
- Liszt: Der König in Thule, S.278/2, “Es war ein König in Thule” (1856)
- Schubert: Szene im Dom aus “Faust I”, D.126, “Wie anders, Gretchen”
- Wagner: Nos.3, 4, 5 from the Seven Compositions for Goethe’s “Faust I”, WWV 15
- Schubert: Wanderers Nachtlied II, op.96/3, D.768, “Über allen Gipfeln ist Ruh” (1823)
- Liszt: Wanderers Nachtlied II, S.306/2, “Über allen Gipfeln ist Ruh” (ca.1860)
- Schubert: Erlkönig, op.1, D.328, “Wer reitet so spät durch Nach und Wind?” (1815)
The piano was a Steinway model B-211 grand piano. The lid was half-closed for this recital.
A short note ahead: the ratings to the performances below are not meant to reflect “absolute performance levels / ratings” (as in typical concert reports). Rather, they reflect my listening experience. In other words: there is the component of atmosphere in the given venue & its audience, and of how well the artist was able to engage, to interact with the audience. Remarks about projection and volume are to be read with a grain of salt, given the special acoustic circumstances. And I apologize for somewhat marginalizing Marija Bokor’s contribution: the focus and the attention in this recital were on the singer.
Franz Liszt (1811 – 1886) isn’t very well-known as composer of Lieder. He did, however, compose around 70 of them. The fact that he even published revised versions of several of these (and of some, he also created piano transcriptions) indicates that this genre wasn’t unimportant to him. The first song in this recital, on Goethe’s famous poem “Es war ein König in Thule” is one example that exists in two versions (S.278/1 from 1842, and S.278/2 from 1856), as well as a piano transcription (S.531/4). Alexandre Beuchat selected the second version.
Beginnings are always difficult, especially in Lied recitals. I was glad to see that the dry acoustics didn’t seem to irritate Alexandre Beuchat the least: his voice was firm, diction and understandability excellent (here, the acoustics were of course helpful!). The singer’s vibrato sounded natural and perfectly adequate for the style of Liszt’s dramatic Lied. The challenges with the dry acoustics were not so much with dramatic segments, but rather with soft parts, where the voice had little support from the venue. However, this was also in parts a question of the listeners adjusting their ears to the venue: after a short while, the voice seemed to project also in soft segments.
Right from the beginning, I noted Marija Bokor’s inconspicuous, but really careful, sensitive, empathic accompaniment: at no point in the recital, the pianist appeared to dominate over the singer. Of course, it was very helpful to keep the piano’s lid half-closed.
Schubert: Szene im Dom aus “Faust I”, D.126, “Wie anders, Gretchen“
Besides his Lied “Gretchen am Spinnrade“, op.2, D.118, Franz Schubert (1797 – 1828) also composed the Duet “Wie anders, Gretchen” (D.126), based on a scene from Goethe’s “Faust, der Tragödie erster Teil” (Faust I), for two voices and piano. One can also perform this as a cantata for voice, choir, and piano, or as cantata for two voices, choir, and piano. Here, there was obviously only one voice, performing this strangely somber, dark music. Beuchat impersonated both solo roles, as well as the liturgic, Latin singing by the choir.
A dark, somber scenery, indeed! However, Alexandre Beuchat didn’t let the music drive him into dramatic exaggerations. I noted his firm voice control, his nice, warm timbre with the right amount of “ping” in it (i.e., good projection). Maybe his vibrato was a bit too dramatic for the beginning of the introductory recitativo section?
I liked how he used the narrowing of the higher-pitched Gretchen role to depict anxiety, Angst: one could really feel the menace! For the third role, the Latin liturgic singing by the “church community”, Beuchat used a firm f/ff voice, sufficiently differentiated from the recitative and the Gretchen parts. Needless to say that with two voices (let alone the addition of a choir), this scene would be far more effective!
The pianist “lived with” the music, as one could easily see from her body motions and gestures, her facial mimics.
Richard Wagner (1813 – 1883) is most known for his stage works. He did however, also write music for piano, as well as a series of Lieder. These are rarely ever performed. The WWV (Wagner-Werk-Verzeichnis) lists most of them in groups, such as “Smaller Lied Compositions”, WWV 105 (1871), WWV 112 (1877), and WWV 113 (1880). More known are Wagner’s Wesendonck Lieder, WWV 91, from 1857 / 1858. At age 18 (1831), Wagner wrote seven “compositions for voice and piano”, WWV 15, using texts from Goethe’s Faust I. Alexandre Beuchat selected numbers 3, 4, and 5 from this collection—from ironic (3) to comedy (4) to sarcastic (5):
- Lied der Soldaten
- Bauer unter der Linde
- Branders Lied, “Es war eine Ratt’ im Kellernest“
- Lied des Mephistopheles (“Flohlied”), “Es war einmal ein König, der hatt’ einen großen Floh“
- Lied des Mephistopheles, “Was machst du mir vor Liebchens Tür“
- Gretchen am Spinnrade
- Melodram “Ach neige, du Schmerzenreiche”
All three of the selected songs are short, their content is narrative, and comic, the melodies (and the accompaniment) are kept simple. The allowed singer and accompanist to present their lighter, comedian side. In their narrating aspect, these short songs (especially No.4) sounded like very short ballads. The audience had fun with the underlying text! These songs certainly profited from Alexandre Beuchat’s theater experience.
Wanderer’s Nachtlied II, op.96/3, D.768, “Über allen Gipfeln ist Ruh” from 1823 is one of Franz Schubert ‘s most famous and most beautiful Lieder, on one of the most perfect German poems. Enough said…
Already this warm, solemn piano introduction: Marija Bokor instantly pulled the listener into the world of one of the nicest Lieder ever! Beuchat kept the first, serene verse all sotto voce, waited for the warning (“Warte nur“) to raise his voice gradually, then instantly returning to sotto voce. I think that throughout the recital, it was not in the loud segments where the singer’s voice was ever challenged, but rather in the softest sotto voce in this Lied, where it seemed to lose some of its firmness (and projection).
Also Franz Liszt (1811 – 1886) composed a Lied on Goethe’s famous poem. However, this is entirely different in character and atmosphere. In a way, Liszt looked at the poem from the warning in the last verse, whereas Schubert focused on the idyllic scene in the first verses, his warning rather appeared “transfigured”. Also here, Liszt revised his original version of the Lied, from 1849 (S.306/1). Alexandre Beuchat performed the second version, S.306/2, which Liszt published 1860.
Liszt’s Lied on the same text is totally different: this song lives from expectation, tension, fear, and menace. Liszt indicates this already in the modulations of the introduction, where a first hint of anguish seemed to grow out of the initial, warm harmonies. Alexandre Beuchat started sotto voce also here, but here, he seemed to profit from the gradual crescendo, the increasing sense of drama. And again, his experience from the theater helped a lot, even in the faintest sotto voce ending: impressive!
Franz Schubert published this Lied as his opus 1, his first “official” composition. It is the stroke of a genius: for good reason, Franz Liszt created a piano transcription from this (S.558), as he also did for Schubert’s Wanderer’s Nachtlied II (S.558/3). One does not need to look at Liszt’s transcription, though: in the piano part, Schubert’s original already is very virtuosic. It’s enough to keep both the pianist’s hands busy!
This Lied (more of a ballad, actually) is not only Schubert’s first, but at the same time one of Schubert’s most challenging songs! It starts in the piano part with its constant tremolo / trembling: an excellent performance by Marija Bokor! The challenges for the singer are manifold: it is very dramatic and covers a wide vocal span. And in addition, the singer must be able to “impersonate” the vastly different characters of the narrator, the father, the Erlkönig, and the child. The latter was easily distinguishable, through its higher pitch—not a problem for Alexandre Beuchat, who made the audience feel the child’s fear.
Also the father’s (ignorant) comforting easily came through. Just the threat of the Erlkönig seemed hard to differentiate through voice coloring: here, Alexandre Beuchat mostly resorted to mimics and gestures. It may be that Beuchat wanted to place the most strenuous Lied at the end (certainly, it was better for Marija Bokor to have this as last song). However, this is also the one where he has the most “development potential”. So, for the overall experience it might have been better to end with a different Lied—why not Liszt’s Wanderer’s Nachtlied II?