Measha Brueggergosman returned to the Wigmore Hall this Sunday for an afternoon single act recital which mined the rich seam of Lieder and chanson involving the moon and the night. From Schubert’s bereft An den Mond to the hothouse sensuality of Liszt’s Oh, quand je dors via Strauss and Berg there is clearly enough potential for several full evenings of repertoire so this hour of music was inevitably the equivalent of a taster menu. Having said that, it was still a satisfying and rewarding programme with plenty of variety.
Before the recital started Brueggergosman and her accompanist, Justus Zeyen apologised for his somewhat casual sartorial presentation. Apparently Zeyen’s luggage had gone astray with all his formal wear included. The fact that he even had a shirt and jacket was due to “the kindness of strangers” said Brueggergosman slightly misquoting Blanche Dubois. One was left with the tantalising image of Tarek, the indefatigable Wigmore House Manager reduced to skulking backstage in his vest!
Brueggergosman opened with Schubert’s An den Mond. This was the Ludwig Hölty setting rather than the Goethe poem of the same name. The poem’s meaning is veiled and could refer to a dead sweetheart or one who is merely dead to the poet and the darkening of the tone at the final line “Wie ein Verlassner weint” (Just like I, forsaken, weep) certainly presages nothing good.
My first impression of Brueggergosman’s voice is that she relied on a disconcertingly forward placement and production. However as the recital progressed the voice opened out and she was able to colour the tone much more successfully.
Continuing with Schubert, Nachtstück (Nocturne) mined his obsession with death. The first two lines were given rather too much portentousness especially as Zeyen had set the scene at intimate rather than heroic level. However Brueggergosman evinced a touching simplicity in "So nimmt der Alte seine Harfe" (The old man takes up his harp). The second verse “Du heil’ge Nacht” needs a strong shift into urgency and this was given full value through to an almost transfigurative “Der mich erlöst von allem Kummer” (That shall free me from all affliction). The final calm acceptance of “Der Tod hat sich zu ihm geneigt” (Death has inclined toward him) was deeply moving without erring towards sentimentality.
The start of Die Mutter Erde betrayed a slight tendency, especially apparent in the German repertoire, for Brueggergosman to feel her way into the pitch. However, once underway, she traced the oppressive feel of the first verse and nicely differentiated the repeated “Es scheint der Mond” (The Moon shines). Particularly good were the final lines “Und sammelt alle, klein und groß” (She gathers us all, small and great alike) firstly sung with regret then with smiling acceptance.
The opening of Richard Strauss’ Wiegenlied (Cradle song) requires a smooth, creamy traversal of the musical line. On the first verse Brueggergosman was not ideally liquid with some slightly bumpy elisions. In later repeats of “Träume, träume” she was more successful and there was an apt darkening of the tone on “Knospe meiner Sorgen” (bud born of my anxiety). She made a slight error in the final line substituting “meiner Liebe” (my love) for “seiner Liebe” (his love). This may seem like nitpicking but it significantly alters the overall meaning and resonance of the verse.
She seemed happier in Berg’s setting of Carl Hauptmann’s Nacht managing a heady swell of tone for the glorious “Weites Wunderland ist aufgetan” (A vast wonderland opens up) and a darkly covered voice for the final lines “Trinke Seele! Trinke Einsamkeit! O gib Acht” (Drink soul! Drink solitude! O take heed!)
Berg’s setting of Rilke’s Traumgekrönt (Crowned with dreams) is a perfect musicalisation of a poem heavy with double meanings and sex/death juxtaposition and again Brueggergosman’s response was fully apt giving a near perfect hairpin crescendo-decrescendo on the final “Nacht”.
She followed the two Berg lied with Die Nacht where the climactic line “O die nacht, mir bangt, sie stehle dich mir auch” (Ah the night, I fear, will steal you too from me) was cut off a mite quickly for my taste. There are possible dramatic reasons for doing this but musically it felt foreshortened.
Returning to Berg for Schilflied (Reed song) and Liebesode (Ode to love) Brueggergosman darkened her tone strangely for "Trug er hinaus in die helle Mondnacht" (Out in the moon-bright night) where, if anything, a brightening of tone is surely required. I also felt she could have brought even more abandon to Träume des rausches – So reich an sehsnucht! (Ecstatic dreams – So rich in longing).
Brueggergosman’s final Strauss song of the recital was, perhaps inevitably, Ständchen in which she cannily paced over the three verses to a rapturous climax on the repeated final lines.
After a shimmering account of Chopin’s Nocturne in D flat (there is no escaping him this year!) from Zeyen, Brueggergosman returned to the platform with Liszt’s Oh, quand je dors! (Ah, while I sleep). Liszt takes Victor Hugo’s already perfumed text and lards on still more sensuality. Over the top, yes, but still pretty irresistible in the right hands. Brueggergosman’s deliberately smoky tones gave full measure to such lines as “Et qu’en passant ton haleine me touche...soudain ma bouche s’entrouvira” (And let your breath, in passing, touch me....and at once my lips will part). She also encompassed the cruelly high lying sections without apparent effort apart from a slight bulging of tone in the final section.
The last part of the recital was given over to three chanson by Henri Duparc: Chanson triste, La vie antérieure (A previous life) and Phidylé. High points in this section were the quickening pulse of the centre section of “La vie antérieure” evoking the mighty forces of nature and the swelling final verse of “Phidylé” climaxing in “Que ton plus beau sourire et ton meilleur baiser. Me récompensent de l’attente!” (Let your loveliest smile and your best kiss reward me for my waiting!)
Brueggergosman rewarded the audience’s loud applause with Barber’s Sure on this shining night (As she said “At last a song in English!”) but the peach was an unaccompanied rendition of the Spiritual “Sometimes I feel like a motherless child”. Opening with a melismatic vocalise she progressed to a passionate call to God which encompassed a huge range of both notes and dynamics. Truly hairs on the back of the neck stuff.