Archive for September, 2022

If a questionnaire asked me “Are you a Nabucco/Macbeth or an Otello/Falstaff person?”, I am afraid I would tick the first box. These early masterpieces have such an immediate appeal in their right-to-the-point-ness: in terms of invention, the ball is always in the air here; the dramatic tension is constant, the balance between solo singing and chorus is ideal; and nothing feels pretentious. One might prefer more sophisticated music, but here the relation between aims and means is just ideal. One is tempted to say that, as many apparently simple works of art, it requires perfection – but as often with Romantic Italian operas, the difficulty is a central part of the experience. You’ll rarely (or never) hear anyone beyond reproach in the three main roles in this opera, but you’ll cherish the memory of singers who dealt with the formidable requirements with panache.

I had seen Anna Pirozzi only once as Maddalena in Giordano’s Andrea Chenier in San Francisco. She was the new diva in the block back then, and I expected something entirely different from what I heard. On writing about her, I used the word “Mozartian” (which is a compliment) and wished she tried lighter repertoire. Now I see that this was a bit off the mark. That said, I wouldn’t call her a dramatic soprano even now. One can see that she is at 110% when the writing requires laser-like acuti, and yet she copes very well with being a bit beyond her natural limits, what makes the experience even more exciting. Anyway, remarkable as this is, it is not what is truly remarkable about Ms. Pirozzi. What makes her special is the intriguing multicolored quality of her voice. It has a remarkable naturalness à la Anita Cerquetti that makes it sounds like a singing voice in every register. Does this sound tautologic? Yet it is not – many a singer in heavy roles resort to all kinds of manipulation to survive the heavy weather and end up sounding basically nondescript. Not Ms. Pirozzi, who resorts to good old technique and a lot of common sense. Whenever Verdi relaxes the demands on her, she scales down to, yes, Mozartian poise and saves her resources for the moments where there’s no holding back. The sound is always individual in tone and the text comes across crisply and idiomatically. Of course, you won’t find here the sheer monumentality of a Dimitrova, but I bet that what Verdi expected comes closer to what Ms. Pirozzi offered last evening. Behind the piercing high notes, there is a chiaroscuro of vulnerability, glamour and bite.

This was not the first time I’ve seen Lucio Gallo as Nabucco. Nine years ago in Tokyo, he made for a less than voluminous and dark quality than what one expects from a Verdi baritone with singing incisive and a voice forceful enough. Now he does sounds overparted here and there, the legato is patchy and the command that the part requires is not entirely there. Yet he throws himself with all he’s got in it – and this is something you can’t learn. Either you have it or not – and it’s a requirement for a role like this. I took a while to recognise Alexander Vinogradov’s voice, which I remember from his Sarastros in the Lindenoper as rather noble in tone. Now it has a curdled patina that takes some time to get used to. That said, once you do, you’ll notice that it has also grown quite massive throughout its range, to exciting effects in combination with the chorus. I found Omer Kobilijak’s more secure and brighter in his notes here as Ismaele than when I heard him in Bellini’s I Capuleti e I Montecchi last year. He was well contrasted to Alisa Kolosova’s fruity, rich-toned Fenena.

One could arguably say that the main part in Verdi’s Nabucco goes for the chorus – and the house chorus was in top form this evening, singing with Italian fulness and clarity throughout. One would hardly call Donato Renzetti’s conducting a game-changer as one hears in Riccardo Muti’s or Giuseppe Sinopoli’s recordings, but it was stylish, solid and sensible. The orchestra had its rough-edged moments, but this is exactly what you would hear in a bona fide Italian opera house, including in what regards the quicksilvery quality of the strings.

When it comes to Andreas Homoki’s 2019 production, all I could say it is an Andreas Homoki production. This time it was green. There were also silly choreographies (as in Broadway-like moves with bowler hats while Abigaille sings she is climbing up the bloody steps to the throne). It did not spoil at all the fun, although one feels that it could have been a concert performance without any loss in insight. It did not change my life, but it was enjoyable. And I don’t think I am alone there. The level of concentration from the audience (including a large group of teenagers nearby) was high.


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La Juive is more than a piece of curiosity; it is an opera of historical importance, a chapter in the development of Musikdrama etc, we know that. The question in my mind on my way to my first live performance of Fromental Halévy’s one-hit-wonder was: does it still stand a place in the repertoire of opera houses? The libretto is very gloomy (except when it is not – save this information for later), very wordy and very long. Then there is the problem of Halévy’s inspiration – the whole score has one single memorable tune (which is very memorable). And there lies the greatest feature of La Juive: this doesn’t matter at all. I had seen this work before on video (the one from Vienna) and I’m familiar with Antonio de Almeida’s famous recording with José Carreras, but it was only live that I could play a little game: I tried to hear it the way Richard Wagner did. And you can find here and there patterns, structures and concepts that would reach optimal results in Tannhäuser and Lohengrin. Halévy could only compose it the way he did because he probably knew he didn’t master the art of melodic invention, and yet he knew the blueprint of a romantic opera score inside out. As there are almost no stop points for the audience to enjoy the charms of tunefulness, the action goes forward in almost strict adherence to the drama. Since these melodic cells do not survive long development and repetition, they are concise and enveloped in recitative, atmosphere largely produced by the orchestra. So, in a nutshell, yes, it is worth the detour if you have an A-team in charge. 

The historical importance of La Juive goes beyond the matters of Romantic style. Its premiere involved a starry cast with at least two legendary singers. First, there was tenor Adolphe Nourrit as Eléazar. He was not only a unique artist with extraordinary musical, literary, acting and even dancing abilities. He embodied the change of paradigm of how a tenor is supposed to sing.  His attempt of singing chest notes di petto like his rival Gilbert Duprez used to do finsaly ruined his voice and his life (he would eventually kill himself). 

That is why it is so curious that the role of Eléazar gradually felt into the slot of tenors with Italianate high notes – recordings feature names like Richard Tucker, the above-mentioned Carreras and Neil Shicoff. The most famous French tenor in this role these days – Roberto Alagna – could be described the same way. American tenor John Osborne has arguably made his career in roles composed around the time of the Duprez/Nourrit controversy, and can run both tracks with absolute abandon. French reviewers praise his ability of singing their national repertoire both idiomatically and stylistically, as well as he has been renowned for his accomplishments in bel canto repertoire. I mean, if you want to hear something similar to what Halévy himself did in the première, then Osborne is supposed to be the man for the job. Indeed, he just confirmed his mastery of French style, musicianship, tonal beauty and sensitivity this evening. Yet the part seemed two sizes lower and larger than his voice. At some point in act 3 it began to fail. The fact that he offered such a convincing account of his big aria with obvious signs of fatigue only proves his exceptional talents. He cleverly used it to show the character’s emotional distress and insisted by the end of the act in giving his all even when it was not truly advisable. Luckily he managed to find his way back to the closing scene. 

This experience shows is that a) regardless of his use of voix mixte, Nourrit must have had a more forceful voice than one tends to believe when one think of a tenor who sings his high notes like that; b) it is not a coincidence that Verdi tenors have been the choice for the role of Eléazar. Musically and dramatically, the part involves an explosive approach (with climactic high notes, of course) against a backdrop of a rather lower tessitura. Furthermore, there is competition not only from the orchestra, but also from another tenor in some scenes and ensembles. This evening, for instance, Osborne sounded usually more dulcet than the tenor in the romantic role, and his velvety tone sometimes less piercing too. If I am not mistaken, he himself sang the role of Léopold to Alagna’s Eléazar. Most importantly. when you listen to, say, Shicoff in the part, the lack of smoothness and poise add an extra layer of dramatic impact to a role that is extreme throughout. There is no right or wrong here, of course. 

The second legendary singer in the première of La Juïve was Cornélie Falcon as Rachel. Falcon’s voice was so special that it has become a Fach in French repertoire, a voice in between lyric and dramatic, soprano and mezzo. When one reads about Falcon’s singing and some of her roles (Donna Anna in Mozart’s Don Giovanni, for instance), it is difficult to imagine how it actually sounded. The words “dark” and “forceful” were usually employed too. The choice of Julia Varady in the Carreras recording always felt like a plausible choice for me because hers is a unique voice too and pretty much among the lyric/dramatic line. I had seen this evening’s Rachel, Ruzan Mantashyan, only once as Fiordiligi (which sounds like a more reasonable Mozartian part for a Falcon voice than Donna Anna anyway) and was curious to hear her in a heavier emploi. I don’t think anyone would describe her fleece-like soprano as forceful, yet she can muster her strengths to produce some big high notes while keeping her usual Mozartian poise. To my mind, she was an ideal Rachel. In musical terms, she sang with solid middle and low registers, phrased with poise, delivered idiomatic French and sounded lovely and vulnerable and still rose to her big moments with conviction. Falcon was famous too for her intense acting and magnetic stage presence. Ms. Mantashyan left nothing to be desirable in that department. More than that, she and Mr. Osborne were the two members of the cast who could make something relatable of the overbusy stage direction. 

That doesn’t mean that Elena Tsallagova did not act well in the role of the Princess Eudoxie. The Russian soprano almost stole the show with her charismatic presence and the aplomb with which she embraced the directorial “telefono bianco” approach established for her part. She sang with absolute technical security, and it would be absurd to say that her voice is maybe too sweet for the part. It has grown stronger in its lower reaches since I last saw her at the Deutsche Oper in Berlin. I  am curious to see what she is doing next. 

The directorial sugar rush boosted a bit tenor Ioan Hotea’s fondness for overacting, but that was not a problem per se. He made clear that the character was self-centered, and that’s what matters. Vocally, he didn’t go for mellifluous (what makes sense with the libretto) but rather as ardent à la Duca di Mantova in Verdi’s Rigoletto (idem ibidem). He has extremely easy high notes and sang fluently too. 

The part of Cardinal de Brogni is always tricky to cast, and I can’t recall any singer who has been truly at ease in it. The single member of the cast not debuting in his role, Dmitry Ulyanov at times seemed to come close to the mark, especially in his scene with Rachel, where his voluminous yet smooth-edged bass came across as  plangent as it should. Elsewhere one missed a stronger-cored sound (and also more precision in intonation) to produce the last degree of authority that the part requires. 

Although one could wish a bit more orchestral tonal sheen (and less accident-prone brass), Marc Minkowski offered the kind of mature conducting of a maestro who is not trying to make of a score anything other than what it ultimately is. One didn’t have the impression that he was Wagnerizing, Verdianizing, Berliozizing it at any time. The performance just flew true to the dramatic situations depicted in terms of pace, phrasing, accents. It was sometimes rough-edged in ensembles, and yet it sounded tight that way. He is also very attentive to his singers, what proved essential in the end of act four, as described above. 

I don’t subscribe director David Alden’s view that there is a strong element of operetta in La Juïve, and I would rather say that this concept only weakens the dramatic impact of the score. To my mind, the anachronistic and over-stylized costumes, the silly choreographies, the semaphoric gesticulation and the gags didn’t add effective contrast but rather made the predicaments of Rachel and Eléazar less gut-wrenching. For instance, showing the good people of Constance as a collective group of crazy meanies makes the story less powerful. The idea behind showing intolerant and xenophobic people as exaggeratedly evil people is far less disturbing that what we see in real life: people who see themselves as the good guys in spite of all the criminal and morally condemnable actions.

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Loose bits

The new season is on – and I had thought of opening it with a post about a performance at the Theater Basel just as I did last year. I never miss an opportunity of seeing Weber’s Der Freischütz. Not only is it rarely performed outside German-speaking countries, but it is also a favorite of mine. Some say it is a work immersed in an outdated context almost entirely lost to us; that may be true, but that is part of its appeal. Also, its irregularities, incongruences and peculiarities make it even more endearing and closer to our experience of daily life, in which ambiguity, irrationality and mystery surround us even today. I can’t read director’s Christoph Mathaler’s mind, but the way he approached it almost seems to stem from a certain unease about the the work, just like when one serves a distasteful traditional dish to a foreign visitor with an apologetic and explanatory attitude, so that everybody knows we’re above the level of that haggis or fromage de tête. Since I couldn’t make myself stay to the end and left at the intermission, I am unable to write a report of this production. So I can only account for my own feelings during the first half. Maybe the second part offered an illuminating reason for what happened before that, I’ll never know. I understand that some people are ready to see anything different and say “at least there was a creative mind deconstructing old boring opera libretti”. De gustibus. Maybe I’m getting old and boring too… Of course, I am all for aggiornamento, but not so much for condescension. For instance, when you see a production like Stefan Herheim’s Bayreuth Parsifal, then you can understand why we’re still staging it at all. It’s not about knights and swans and spears and goblets – so, ok, let’s talk about what it is all about. And call me silly, but I don’t believe that guns are what Der Freischütz is ultimately about.

It would be dishonest to say that the production was the single reason for my decision to go. I don’t understand the idea behind giving parts meant for professional singers to actors who – despite their obvious acting talents and undeniable musicality – cannot do justice to the music or deliver its full emotional range. I felt sorry for the actual singers, who (at least in the first part) were rather unenthusiastically received by the audience. In spite of a light voice for the part, Nicole Chevalier offered a commendable account of Leise, leise to no applause. And that’s a very difficult aria, which I had heard less well sung in more glamorous circumstances. Jochen Schmeckenbecher lacked the resonance of a true bass as Kaspar – and yet he sang all his big solos before the Wolfsschlucht scene (which I did not see) with clear diction, firmness of tone, flexibility and the right degree of fierceness. I regret not being capable of staying and hear more of the musical performance. Kammerorchester Basel under Titus Engel – despite the weird editorial decisions (numbers were performed not in the order imagined by Weber, some of them given to a stage band instead of the orchestra, unwritten pauses galore etc) – offered a fascinating account of the score, as far as I could listen. With gut strings and natural brass instruments, the orchestra avoided all Wagnerianism in their performance – and built atmosphere from articulation, exciting tempi and some raw sonorities. It feels a bit pointless writing about half a performance, but last time I left the theatre during the intermission (also in Basel, I’m afraid), I felt sorry for not being able to share my impressions about a very good Tamino, the best I had heard in a while. So I guess this is a good opportunity to mention his name: Kai Kluge.

Another item I am not writing about is the J.S. Bach Stiftung’s performance of the Lutheran masses in St.Gallen’s Cathedral. I had ticket for both concerts, but attended only the first one – and that has nothing to do with the quality of the music making, which was to top quality as usual. The acoustics made it impossible for me – the place is so echoey that even the speaker had to make long pauses between words in order to be understood during his lecture between the two parts of the concert. Imagine how Bachian choral counterpoint sounds in a place like that, regardless of how beautiful it is (it is indeed a masterpiece of baroque architecture). Anyway, it was a good opportunity to hear Alex Potter for the first time. His high notes are very well focused and he has amazingly long breath. I had seen him sing the aria in the Mass in G minor on YouTube, and his performance in St. Gallen stood the comparison.

There is yet another concert I cannot truly write about – Monteverdi’s Vespro della beata vergine with the Collegium Vocale Ghent and Philippe Herreweghe. The reason is: believe it or not, it was the first time I have ever heard a full performance of it. Many decades ago, I was given John Eliot Gardiner’s recording and – at the time – it didn’t appeal to me at all. For some reason I never gave it a second try until Sunday. It was a mesmerizing experience and a very kurzweilig one. I have the impression you really need a great group of soloists to make it work. And that was the case this time. It is almost unfair to single out this or that singer, but I have to mention Reinoud Van Mechelen, who produced some of the most exquisite sounds I have ever heard from a tenor. I have read that he sang Belmonte at least once, and I would really like to hear him sing Mozart some day. I also find Dorothee Mields’ sheer joy in singing irresistible – and I cherished the opportunity of seeing after a while the great Peter Kooij again.

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Music lounge (54)

I don’t believe anyone would call Handel’s Lotario his or her favorite opera. The Italian poet Paolo Rolli famously wrote that everybody considered it “un’opera pessima” (i.e., a really bad opera). It was performed ten times in Handel’s lifetime and would be revived only in the 20th century after its 1729 première in the King’s Theatre. The taste for Italian opera seria in London had declined since the huge success of Rinaldo 18 years before, but Handel expected that Lotario would hit home – he had just lost Cuzzoni and Senesino and was hopeful he had found ideal replacements in Anna Maria Strada del Pò and Antono Bernacchi.

La Strada would become a key singer in Handel’s ensemble. He would write for her prima donna roles in his operatic masterpieces Orlando, Alcina and Ariodante, as well as in oratorios such as Athalia and Esther. Bernacchi would create another role for Handel, Arsace (Partenope) and also take part in revivals of Giulio Cesare and Tolomeo, when he took over Senesino’s roles (i.e., the title roles). Bernacchi was an important singer who radically changed his stylistic approach when he was already famous and then vowed himself to his career as a teacher. Anton Raff (the first Idomeneo), for instance, was one of his students. His career in London, however, suffered from the permanent comparison with Senesino, whom the English audience found to have a sweeter voice and better looks.

Lotario’s libretto is not the most compelling piece of literature, the plot is uninteresting to start with, and yet the bad guys are evil and loving it (with exciting arias to match) and the damsel in distress is almost too good to be true. In the middle of it, there is the primo uomo part, Lotario. The story is loosely inspired in an episode of Adelaide of Burgundy’s life. She had lost her first husband, Lothair II, King of Italy, and his sucessor, Berengar, harassed her to marry his son, Adalbert. As she refused, she was imprisoned in Garda, but was able to flee and send for help. The East Frankish King, Otto I, agreed to rescue her. To make things a little bit difficult, Otto goes in the libretto by the name of Lotario to avoid confusion with Handel’s 1723 opera Ottone, where some of these historical figures already appeared. In any case, I write all this to say that I somehow can imagine why the first audiences were not easily convinced by Bernacchi’s performance.

One of Handel’s many abilities as an opera composer was to make very clear what kind of person every character was by their entrance arias. Think of the first time we hear Almirena, Rinaldo and Armida in Rinaldo or Ariodante and Ginevra in Ariodante. Although Handel did write some alpha male displays for Senesino’s first entrances (most famously in Giulio Cesare in Egitto), he mostly preferred to first show the famous primo uomo’s soft side and benefit from his famous smoothness of tone, often with with light orchestral accompaniment, in arias which are popular to these days for their melodic appeal: Bertarido’s Dove Sei (Rodelinda), Andronico’s Bell’Asteria (Tamerlano), Floridante’s Alma mia, and also Ottone’s Ritorna, o dolce amore and Admeto’s Chiudetevi, miei lumi. Even when the keyword was a bit more heroic, one could still feel the royal velours of Senesino’s voice in lines that tended rather to the flowing than to the craggy, as in Tolomeo’s Cielio, ingiusto or Poro’s Vedrai col tuo periglio. Apparently, the mellifluous quality of Senesino’s singing was such that it smoothed all the sharp edges of an aria di bravura. This may sound vacuous, but in the context of baroque opera, it served an expressive purpose. Almost every role Handel wrote for this famous castrato involved a warrior or a king more concerned with matters of the heart than with the big picture of battles and politics until he finally makes a grand gesture to rescue his beloved prima donna (or prove himself worthy of her). And Senesino’s ability to deliver an aria like Alessandro’s Fra le stragi e la morte somehow showed the audience that he would be rather making love than war in the next three hours. This ambivalence probably inspired Handel to write an almost stylistically schyzophrenic part such as the title role in Orlando. There, the text of this character’s first aria is by no coincidence “Hercules did not prove less brave whenever he traded his weapons for the bosom of the beautiful Omphale”.

Now back to Lotario. We’ll never know what Adelaide actually thought of Otto when she first saw him. Probably that he was a very good match. Yet in the opera, things run in an entirely different level. Adelaide is feeling anxious about the plot carried out by her enemies, when a “warlike stranger” shows up and asks for a private audience. He introduces himself as a champion ready to defend her. She demands to know his name, and he makes no mystery about his royal status. He does not hide his intent either – he says he is there for love. She plays coy and asks him who is the object of his love. Then he goes for full disclosure – he has always wanted her and now that she’s a widow, he saw an opportunity. She too seizes the moment and says something like “save my day – and I won’t say no to anything you ask me”. This is when he sings Rammentati, cor mio, ciò che prometti a me, che sono amante e re e che so trionfar (Bear in mind, my dear, what you promise, for I am no ordinary suitor; I am a king and I always win” (in a very, very free translation). Let’s try to see it from a personal point of view. Imagine that you’re a widow who’s been harassed by an enemy who demands you to marry him. Then a total stranger appears and basically says he could save you from the bad guy if you agree to do for him exactly what the bad guy wants you to do for himself. So what’s the difference? The difference is that Lotario/Otto is irresistible. And that’s what this aria is about. The text is wrong, the circumstances are wrong, it’s all wrong, but who cares? He does not doubt for a second that he is getting the girl and he is acting like it – and, well, it worked. As you see, you need a Senesino-ish tonal smooth-talk to make this pompous display of obnoxiousness minimally palatable.

There aren’t many commercial releases of Lotario – and two of them were released almost simultaneously. Alan Curtis’s complete recording features Sara Mingardo in the title role, while Paul Goodwin’s (in a highlights set) has Lawrence Zazzo. While both he and later Sophie Rennert (in Laurence Cummings’ live from Göttingen) offer solid, commendable performances, the Italian contralto makes something superior of Rammentati, cor mio. Mingardo’s voice has has no edge, it’s entirely plush and soft-cored. It is unmistakably a contralto voice, the tone more motherly than masculine, exactly the kind of sound one expects from an English oratorio contralto. Although she handles coloratura adeptly, she is not one of those athletic singers who delight in filigree. She unmistakably sounds more comfortable with long, noble phrases. It is not a coincidence that she was one of the few Italians singers of her generation who sang Bach outside Italy, even German cantatas. That said, it is not a voice for all tastes – the tonal plushness throughout her registers involve a distinct vibrancy that some die-hard baroque purists could find too much. It does not disturb me at all – and I find it preferable to the single instrumental color some singers employ in this repertoire. I have seen her only once – singing Handel – and the experience was consistent with what I had heard in recordings. It is a dark, rich sound, and she sang with absolute emotional honesty.

I would not call Mingardo a specialist in Senesino roles, but she did record at least two of them: Andronico in a video from Madrid and Riccardo Primo with Christophe Rousset. She arguably shares with the legendary castrato his hallmark – hers too is a voice of unique color and presence that naturally steers whatever she sings to nobler, tender affetti. In her highly (yet tastefully) decorated account of Rammentati, cor mio she establishes with the sound of her voice alone all the important elements of the scene. The sound is grand, the color is appealing, almost exotic in its vibrant darkness. The aria has a dotted solemnity that evokes the protocolar. One can almost see the usher, doors being opened – and then the extravagant embellishment suggest capes, plumes, swords. With Mingardo, Lotario really makes an entrance. Differently from everyone else in this aria, she has some key tricks to keep interest on to the end of the aria. Here we clearly have the amante (the lover) and the re (the king). She caresses the words “cor mio” in a very sensuous and intimate tone, adds an almost breathy, eager quality to some of her “che sono amante e re” and goes for “e che son trionfar” with awesome, huge chesty low notes. It’s almost frightening – how her Lotario involves Adelaide with both seduction and intimidation. The queen can do nothing but believe that he always gets what he wants. The way he triumphed there can only be a sign that he will conquer over her enemies everywhere.

Of course, Lotario was not a Senesino role. And this is maybe why the audience in the première felt a bit short-changed. In his intent of proving that he had found a perfect replacement for Senesino in Bernacchi, Handel might have acted out, ending up on unfairly expecting from the new singer to channel – against his own vocal nature – his predecessor. As contemporary reviewers observed, the trick did not truly work out. I wonder what kind of adaptations Bernacchi might have employed to win the favor of the public in this role later in the run, but that is something we will never know.

In a way, Alan Curtis is the ideal conductor for this aria and for this singer. He never was a Minkowski/Jacobs fireworks maestro, and would rather work his way from the scrumptious, warm sonorities of his orchestra and the elegant, organic way he conceived the framework of each number. It is a tricky piece; it can feel a bit empty. Yet Curtis manages to make it courtly both in the mannerly and amorous meanings of the word.

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As many young German baritone active as a Lieder singer, Konstantin Krimmel has been called “the new Fischer-Dieskau”. When one hears DFD’s early recordings, there is some point in the comparison. We hear in Mr. Krimmel’s the clarity of diction, the firmness, the wide-ranging tonal palette, the naturalness of emission and the intent of making something of every word in the text. The singing itself, however, couldn’t be more different. Although there is something cerebral in the way every expressive trait is carefully thought out and rendered, this baritone’s absolute immersion in the emotional universe of each song has a theatrical perspective with little of the professoral approach one sometimes finds in Lieder singers. On the opposite, Mr. Krimmel embodies rather than present every Lied. His facial expressions, his every gesture are in the service of the feelings and ideas both in music and text. He shifts from the angelic purity of a Bach baritone to the full power of a Wagner singer in one second – yet he does not veer from ideal focus. One never has the feeling that he has reached his limits – he is always in charge, and paradoxically he is often at his 100%. He goes for the extreme pianissimo, for the full-powers fortissimo – but expressionism has nothing to do with what he does. First, Mr. Krimmel – thank God! – never forgets the sensuous appeal of the melodic line. He has very long breath and is capable of seamless legato in consistent tonal quality. Even when the line demands something closer to declamation, the sense of line is never lost. Second, the way he recreates the passion behind ever song is either a product of an extraordinarily sensitive nature of the result of an admirable ability of convincing the audience that all this is real. I have never experienced in a Liederabend the kind of suspense and anxiety as in his performance in this all-Schubert recital of the ballad Die Bürgschaft, a Schiller setting with an extremely dramatic story. Everyone in the audience leaned forward in anxiety hoping for a happy ending, which transported all of us to a state of bliss.

This might makes one think that Mr. Krimmel has a taste for the excessive and the exaggerated, but describing his artistry like that wouldn’t be true or accurate. Some of the tempi he and his pianist Daniel Heide chose were rather moderate in comparison to recordings by some famous singers. In a popular item like Der Wanderer an den Mond, there was plenty of variety, but in moments where most singers are a little bit more outgoing, he chose for subtlety and coloured the text without making the slightest violence to the flow of music even if for expressive purposes. I have to be honest – I don’t like pale Schubert singing. On listening to Schubert, I can understand where Richard Wagner found the inspiration to develop the vocal style of his operas. Therefore in items like Prometheus, the large scale and the intensity is the obvious response to what Goethe AND SCHUBERT demand there. One could say that a song like Der Pilgrim has been sung with a little bit more of classical poise. Yet Mr. Krimmel never sacrificed the beauty of phrasing, and the spiritual anguish described there claims something way beyond politeness.

It must be mentioned that Mr. Krimmel sang the twelve items in this recital without interval. It was indeed amazing how he just needed 20 seconds to shift between songs and how his voice never showed any sign of fatigue (and he didn’t make any economy of it during the whole recital). He would even offer as encore an intense account of Wilkommen und Abschied (another Goethe setting) and an ultra smooth Litanei (“for the feast of all souls”), where he employed some decoration I am not familiar with. His pianist produced rich, almost orchestral sounds, phrasing rather from large brushstrokes, breathing with the singer and exploring like him the expressive power of pauses in a dramatic way.

I thought it would have been difficult to write about this Liederabend, for it was so all-round satisfying that one wouldn’t be able to describe it with words other than those of general praise. However, it caused such a strong impression in the audience that its memory is far more vivid that one could have imagined at the moment.

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