Goerne, Trifonov join forces for a mesmerizing night of lieder

Wed Feb 07, 2018 at 1:37 pm
Matthias Goerne and Daniil Trifonov performed Tuesday night at Carnegie Hall. Photo: Richard Termine

Matthias Goerne and Daniil Trifonov performed Tuesday night at Carnegie Hall. Photo: Richard Termine

Pianist Daniil Trifonov is helming a Perspectives Series at Carnegie Hall this season, and he joined baritone Matthias Goerne Tuesday night for a concert in the hall’s Great Singers series.

One infrequently sees a star of the magnitude of Trifonov accompanying a singer, but Goerne is also a star. Both are great musical artists, dedicated to meaning and its expression. One expected a marvelous experience, and that was fullfilled.

One subliminally expects such things to be impressive, to sound great, to be full of the beautiful musicality of the shape of phrases and sensitive and dramatic dynamics. Those things were all there—in Berg’s Four Songs, Op. 2, Dichterliebe by Schumann, Drei Gedichte von Michelangelo by Hugo Wolf, three songs from Shostakovich’s Suite, Op. 145, and Brahm’s Op. 121 Vier ernste Gesange. But the concert was much more, as the two men created a world inside the hall, separated from ordinary life and more vivid than a movie for being absolutely real.

This was not just music made for people, but music as means to engage with people. One-sided of course as the audience listened with a rare quiet attention, but this was like listening to friends at an intimate party.

As the evening’s singer, Goerne was primarily responsible. He recorded the Dichterliebe 20 years ago, with Vladimir Ashkenazy, and the difference between then and now was illustrative of the concert. The two decades have darkened, deepened, and added grain to his already gorgeous voice. And where on the recording the vocal gestures and dramatic emphases are prominent, Tuesday night his singing was secondary to the feeling that he was sharing his lived experience. Every note and phrase were there, but they sounded uncannily conversational.

He and Trifonov realized a smart and effective plan, picking key moments in each set and shaping the rise and direction of all the songs around that point. At the start it was the magical framing of the major chords in Berg’s bluesy “Dem Schmerz sein Recht,” in Dichterliebe it was a gradual rise to a floating, ecstatic plateau, reached at “Und wüßten’s die Blumen.”

One measure of how fine the concert was can be found in how it almost went completely awry. Performed without intermission, a refreshing choice that always concentrates the mind, the music was also continuous, with Trifonov immediately segueing to the next set of songs. His judgment in this was perfect, shaping each concluding cadence so that it made a logical transition into the next.

Except the first transition from Berg to “Im wunderschönen Monat Mai” threatened to indulge in an appalling mannerism. The tempo was far too slow, ostentatiously so. Yet the performance didn’t suffer due to the sustaining power of  Trifonov’s plain simplicity at the keyboard and the beauty of Goerne’s voice. Goerne sang it as a song, full of art but without any demonstration that it was anything other than a young man singing about how he was once in love.

Even though “Aus meinen Tränen” was also too slow, it was nothing more than a minor, and passing, irritation, quickly forgotten before the incomparable music making.

Then it was a mesmerizing, emotionally complex descent through Wolf’s and Shostakovich’s masterful settings of Michelangelo. Youth, love, charm were worn away by age, doubt, ruefulness. These two sets of songs came right out of Goerne’s gut. The Shostakovich songs were particularly crepuscular.

The end was vivid, intensely intimate. One felt they were with Goerne and Trifonov in some place of murmurs and subtle gestures. The Op. 121 songs come from the period when Brahms’s music became intensely personal and, though meant to be heard by others, acutely private. These songs and the Intermezzos have the sound of the composer reviewing his own memories—they are regretful and sad, even touched with shame, but somehow ultimately satisfied with life.

So deep were they in the music, Goerne and Trifonov seemed to inhabit Brahms’s world to their cores, so natural and spontaneous did the music sound. The encore of Bach’s “Bist du bei mir” balanced the night with elegance and grace.

Danill Trifonov performs with Kremerata Baltica 8 p.m. April 25. carnegiehall.org

One Response to “Goerne, Trifonov join forces for a mesmerizing night of lieder”

  1. Posted Feb 07, 2018 at 2:54 pm by KMW

    A sublime evening.

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