If it seems like Wednesday lunchtime in a cheerful yellow hall on a brilliant sunny day might be the perfect time to hear spectacular artists perform beautiful Lieder, you could not be more correct. As part of the Konzerthaus’ Mittagsmusik (Midday Music) series, young soprano Anna Lucia Richter teamed up this week with one of the greatest living song accompanists, Gerold Huber, to present an extraordinarily varied matinée of songs in the Schubertsaal. The recital began with a focus on themes of spring and firsts by Schubert and Wolf, then transitioned to later, darker odes such as Wolf’s lesser-known Abendbilder and closed with the Alben Berg's Sieben früher Lieder. By the time the Berg's Sommertage had ended, worlds indeed lay between spring and summer, with every possible colourful permutation of sound, articulation and lyrical bent having been explored along the way.
The opening bell-like phrases of Schubert’s Das Lied im Grünen suited Richter’s voice as if custom-designed for it, and gave me chills despite tiny displays of early-in-the-programme nerves. The sheer height, beauty and depth to her sound – in particular the facility with which she negotiates between registers, the ring in her top connecting flawlessly to the roundness in her middle and lower – immediately called to mind a young Elly Ameling. Richter is possessed with the ability to change colour on a dime, and the crystalline clarity of her sound, only slightly marred on occasions when she stops to listen to herself, is something very special indeed. Her diction speaks cleanly, her phrasing choices are impeccable, and she is consummately musical. She took on with success songs extensive in scope, such as Schubert’s Viola and Berg’s Frühe Lieder, but did not fall into the trap of tossing off short songs many singers mistakenly treat as easy filler, such as the deceptively difficult little gem by Wolf, Blumengruß, which ended up being a musical high point. No less, the first of the Abendbilder which followed, Friedlicher Abend, where the relaxed beauty of Richter’s middle-lower registers bathed us in beauty; a dreamlike contrast on the heels of numerous high, bell-tone offerings.
Speaking of articulation and sound, Huber’s unbroken attention to both constantly impresses every time I hear him in recital, and this occasion was no exception. In Viola, as an example, he produced the most delicate, ringing snowdrops to open. The joyous reflection of the anticipated wedding celebration burst with energy, and the snowdrop’s shock was grippingly portrayed through an energy and tempo shift as she found herself abandoned; the sighs in the piano representing her sobs likewise palpable.
In the same vein, the transitions in Wolf’s Stille wird’s im Wald, where the piano shifted the mood between four descriptive vignettes of verse, were stunning. Berg’s Sieben Frühe Lieder are by nature a glorious celebration of colour and texture, and both Huber and Richter revelled in both. Huber produced magical colours to open Nacht, and Richter’s ability to take all the weight out of her voice in instances like “Hauch von fernen Hain” are transcendent. I also absolutely adored the end of Traumgekrönt – her control in the final decrescendo to end “Erklang die Nacht” feathered with his crescendo to stunning effect.
The only disappointing element throughout the performance was Richter’s use of sheet music, and I mention it only because it was consistently distracting not just for the audience, but for the artist herself – and so noticeable in this case because she seems otherwise intensely connected to the performance and profoundly musical. Having to pull herself out of that space and reconnect with the printed page was a pity, though in the business that today’s music industry has become, it is perhaps asking the impossible of a rising star to find time to get a hefty recital programme off-book with all the other demands on her time. Regardless, I will be watching the development of this voice and musical soul with great interest, and am always grateful for the opportunity to hear Huber work his pianistic magic.
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