A DISTANT LOVE
Melbourne Digital Concert Hall Satellite Night – Sydney
Wednesday May 20
Spreading their entrepreneurial largesse around the country, Adele Schonhardt and Christopher Howlett have moved outside Melbourne and sponsored recitals in Perth and Sydney. I’m sorry to have missed the Western Australian ones, in particular pianist Gladys Chua and clarinetist Ashley Smith (fresh from his personable appearance on ABC TV’s Hard Quiz) playing a program of showpieces and operatic arrangements. Wednesday night’s hour of lieder from tenor Andrew Goodwin and pianist Roland Peelman came from Sydney, given in a rehearsal room that put us right in the picture with the performers as well as alongside them in a dangerously clear acoustic.
Even given these close quarters for operations, both artists produced an engrossing experience through Beethoven’s An die ferne Geliebte cycle, five songs by Schumann, and seven by Schubert. I don’t know if Goodwin and Peelman ever worked together in those happy pre-virus years but they made an ideal pairing on this night of works central to the repertoire, although only a few of the artists’ selections get a regular airing.
For instance, the set of six songs that Beethoven linked together so that nothing is easily extractable have not featured large in the many vocal recitals I’ve attended. This famine of performances might be due to the chop-and-change nature of the cycle’s content which, although consistent in expressing the lover’s proposals and dejections, asks for an unvarnished interpretation. You won’t find the pathos or merriment, forced or authentic, that infuses the work of this program’s other contributors. Instead, the sequence has a nobility and sincerity that takes you back to the same qualities in Fidelio where Beethoven faces his audience with a black-or-white morality that allows no wriggle room.
Some glitch meant that I came into this performance only at the first song’s second stanza, Weit bin ich. But anyone could see (and hear) straight away that Goodwin was in command of the phrasing differentiation that gives the repeated vocal line its interest. Also evident from the start was Peelman’s sophistication as an accompanist, the connecting interludes given with care for each note’s weight, both artists enthusiastic across the stringendo beginning at und eine liebend Herz where the lover turns assertive. The pianist impressed even further in the following Wo die Berge so blau with its end-of-stanza echo effects treated with punctilious regard for the song’s mood and the singer’s regretful lingering. Peelman also gave Goodwin excellent support in the middle verse where the singer stays on one note and the keyboard has to make the melodic running; deftly accomplished here without demanding attention.
This cycle’s third segment, Leichte Segler, is a cow to treat fairly. Goodwin had a red hot go at separating the isolated quavers that alternate with simple crotchets and he got a majority of the distinctions right, although the difference disappeared by the time we got to the last Flüstr’ ihr verses. Both Diese Wolken in den Höhen and Es kehret der Maien could not be faulted, the highpoint for me coming in the latter song’s last stanza: a model of flawless delivery from both performers and a wrenching realization of Beethoven’s (and poet Alois Jeitteles’) simple regret. As icing on this particular cake, the often awkward stretch in the final song starting at und sein letzter Strahl – pianissimo and with a griping set of chromatic slips – came over with fitting calm, almost detachment, before the final masculine rush to completion after the manner of Mary Queen of Scots. This surge folded up an excellent piece of interpretation – the participants considerate of the composer and of each other.
Their Schumann bracket began with Du bist wie eine Blume, the first of three excerpts from the Myrthen cycle. Only 20 bars long, shaped simply with not a space wasted, this found the interpreters happy to employ ritardandi to reinforce Heine’s Biedermeier sentimentality. The second song I didn’t know at all; thanks to Goodwin’s email graciousness, I’ve learned that it was Intermezzo from the Liederkreis Op. 39 collection, one that I’ve not heard live for many years. Here again, the duo demonstrated its unanimity of purpose with the tenor offering a full timbre in the song’s central strophes and Peelman contriving to make the constant syncopation a support rather than a distraction.
Another success came with the second Myrthen excerpt, Die Lotosblume; Goodwin combining sensitivity and passion, notably in the 6th and 7th last bars where Heine’s flower reaches a kind of floral orgasm. More Heine followed with the Op. 127 Dein Angesicht; despite its chromatic shifts, this is a placidly self-contained effusion – remarkable, considering the text – which Peelman rounded out with an expertly judged postlude.
Last of all came the first of the Myrthen songs, Widmung, which musicians of my age associate inevitably with the Liszt transcription performed by Eileen Joyce. Goodwin appeared to have a breath problem when he reached du bist die Frieden and Schumann’s minims and semibreves; in fact, throughout this central page, several sustained notes were cut short. Much better followed in the reprise of Du, meine Seele which the singer treated with a captivating, smooth ardour.
For their Schubert offensive, these musicians opened with the first of two selections from Die schöne Müllerin. In his efforts to furnish us with a brook-suggesting chain of sextuplets, some notes disappeared from Peelman’s right hand and an unfortunately palpable error crept in during the second-last bar; by comparison, Goodwin had it easy with one of the composer’s most infectious melodies. Meyrhofer’s Nachtstück enjoyed a full-bodied handling, almost exuberant in its changes of scene/approach and moving into near-operatic mode at the suspenseful lead-in phrase und gedämpft, balanced by a lyrical calm that floated out at Bald ist’s vollbracht.
Third on the list was another Müllerin song, Halt, which through some aberration of memory I thought was Der Müller und der Bach: two lieder quite different in most ways but I grabbed onto the Bächlein, liebes Bächlein interjection and jumped the wrong way until Goodwin’s kind email set me straight. This lied proved notable for Peelman’s finely gauged accompaniment that gave room to the voice despite being busy and interesting in its own right. Nacht und Träume is another difficult task to undertake because it’s so soft that any attempt at inserting even a slight dynamic crisis seems cheap. Tenor and pianist kept on the right side of piano although Peelman failed to articulate some of his interstitial right-hand semiquavers because of a determination to whisper his part; Goodwin also had trouble sustaining dotted minims in the work’s second part, and his final wieder found him out of puff.
I’ve not come across Ruckert’s Dass sie hier gewesen before but it made an appropriate sequel to Nacht und Träume because of a quizzical posing of harmonic questions and resolving them, if not in a hurry to do so. Fortunately, the interpreters observed moderation, setting a fluent vocal part against the piano’s colourful commentary. You might hear Ganymed at lieder society events but it’s not often included at non-specialist recitals. For my money, this was the finest work of the night, beginning with a well-paced salute to Spring, then packed with brio from the accelerando on, up to a warm, fulfilling address to Goethe’s alliebender Vater. The final piece, Ständchen, was given a robust interpretation, coming over more as a command than an entreaty with Peelman reaching hard for expressiveness at bars 9-10. But then Goodwin made very impassioned statements of the second Fürchte, Holde, nicht! and Jedes weiche Herz.
Despite some minor flaws, this performance made for one of the most enjoyable bouts of craft that I’ve heard so far in this series. Goodwin’s voice is a never-failing delight, splendid in its purity of articulation and dynamic command. I’m accustomed to hear him in mobile vocal works, like the Bach Passions for which he is without peer in this country, but his technical skill and interpretative honesty were just as evident in this Romantic era material. Up till now, Peelman has been associated in my experience with The Song Company’s appearances in the Melbourne Concert Hall. On this occasion, he revealed another side to his talents through piano accompaniments of high quality which revealed an artist of thorough musicianship and insight.