How tempting it can be for the aficionado of German Lieder to stay at home and never to go to concerts. He (yes, it is normally a he rather than a she) can retreat into his LP and CD collection, and convince himself that the great recordings of a Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau or an Elisabeth Schwarzkopf cannot be surpassed.

Dom McIntyre / Creative Commons
Dom McIntyre / Creative Commons

It may be tempting, but to forgo the live experience is decidedly wrong; because a performance by a singer who can interpret German song in concert with the authority, the thoughtfulness, and the wonderfully communicative presence of Geraldine McGreevy is not to be missed. Pianist Joseph Middleton, even with the limitations of performing on a Schimmel upright, was the consummate duo partner.

Wolf’s Goethe songs, and Brahms songs such as Vergebliches Staendchen, might have once been Schwarzkopf’s home territory, but they are songs which cry out to be performed live. Last night’s recital in Pembroke College Cambridge's splendid Wren chapel was as joyful as it was unforgettable. McGreevy’s darting eyes and limpid phrasing in Brahms, her unfailing understanding of the arches in the phrasing and the bigger structure of the Wolf songs were irresistible. McGreevy and Middleton's first half built inexorably to a magnificent climax with “Mignon: Kennst du das Land.” Goethe's headily ecstatic vision of a paradise in the south was powerful stuff indeed.

Poulenc’s 1939 “Fiancailles pour Rire,” in which the composer tries to pin down and to give substance to Louise de Vilmorin’s deliberately mocking, evasive, evanescent poems, is a problematic collection at the best of times. On the other hand, the final selection of characterful and lively Chabrier songs again brought out the best of both performers’ musicianship, humour and stagecraft.

But where, oh where was the audience? In Cambridge, it seems, the word does not seem to have got out about this series. Joseph Middleton is as classy a Lieder pianist as can be found anywhere in the world. His role as College Musician at Pembroke College, and his place on the artist roster at Askonas Holt means that the college's song recital series can attract the kind of starry singers who have already shone brightly in the world's leading opera houses. Geraldine McGreevy has risen to the heights of performing Richard Strauss's Marschallin (again Schwarzkopf ground) at the Komische Oper in Berlin, receiving rave reviews in the German national press for the intelligence and sheer musicality of her sung German. But performances as good as this need a decent audience. Someone definitely needs to graft harder to support the artists on these out-of-town concerts, and to ensure the viability of UK touring circuits.