The full-capacity audience at the Concertgebouw Recital Hall had bought tickets to hear Christian Gerhaher sing Goethe settings by Franz Schubert and Wolfgang Rihm, with Gerold Huber at the piano. Unfortunately, the German baritone had to cancel because of illness. The programme was reconfigured into a Schubertian first half and songs by Hugo Wolf after the intermission. Goethe fans were probably disappointed to see him share space with lesser gods such as Ernst Schulze and Nikolaus Lenau. Any qualms about the musical changes, however, had dissolved by the time the replacement vocalist, German soprano Anna Lucia Richter, had finished her first Schubert set with a sadly melting “Erster Verlust” (First Loss). The vigorous applause grew more clamorous after each song grouping. By the end of the evening she had completely conquered the hall with her voice and mature artistry, astonishing in such a young singer.

Anna Lucia Richter © Jessylee Photographie
Anna Lucia Richter
© Jessylee Photographie
Anna Lucia Richter’s focused soprano is silvery and immediately appealing. The top is brilliant and the bottom skillfully produced, with swirls of colours in between. Her tonal purity alone makes her worth hearing. An attractive voice, however, is not enough to carry a lieder recital, but Ms Richter also possesses all the other necessary attributes: flawless diction, immediate expressivity, and an engaging stage persona that never overpowers the intention of the song. Her voice has the ideal wistfulness for nostalgic ballads such as “Im Frühling” (In Spring), but she also taps the veins of steel that run through it to create piercing emphasis.

She can also be a riveting storyteller. Greater dynamic contrast, especially cannier use of piano singing, would refine her narration in lengthy songs such as Schubert’s sentimental “Viola” (Violet). It is, however, unreasonable to expect interpretative perfection from a singer who graduated from music conservatory only last year. Her great theatrical instincts are evident, and she displayed them in the bloodcurdling “Der Zwerg” (The Dwarf), voicing the murderous lover with controlled vehemence, with Gerold Huber’s fevered accompaniment sustaining the narrative tension. The unerring execution of this last Schubert song palpably increased the energy running between the performers and the audience.

Throughout the evening, Mr Huber struck a perfect balance between supporting and breathing with Ms Richter and taking centre stage in the purely instrumental passages, such as in the euphoric finale of Wolf’s “Er ist’s!” (It’s Spring!). His fleet tempos were virtuosically accurate and pulsated with irrepressible suppleness. His legato playing was simply beautiful. After the intermission, the hand-in-glove rapport between singer and pianist only got better. The contrasting moods in the Hugo Wolf songs showcased Ms Richter’s versatility, from playful whimsicality in “Frühlingsglocken” (Spring Bells) to lyrical mood painting in the “Abendbilder” (Evening Scenes) triptych. The final selection consisted of four settings of sacred poems by Eduard Mörike. Ms Richter approached these songs with simplicity, infusing them with a searching introspection. Mr Huber echoed this searching quality in the piano, as in the tentative chords in “Schlafendes Jesuskind” (Sleeping Baby Jesus). “Wo find ich Trost?” (Where shall I find solace?), the desperate cry of a soul in crisis, was delivered with fragile intensity. At the end the audience showered the pair with bravos and was regaled with two more songs by Wolf. Lieder lovers are aware of Gerold Huber’s proven superior artistry. As for the remarkable Anna Lucia Richter: catch her when you can.

****1