Soprano Anja Harteros was an absolute dream to hear in this evening's recital at the Staatsoper and comported herself with absolute graciousness and charm. Not only did Harteros exude maturity and musical honesty but she was in truly breathtaking form and could not seem to take a step wrong. She combined her characteristic vocal and technical brilliance with complete selflessness on stage, not to mention clarity of purpose, crisp diction and thoughtful phrasing. She was feminine, understated yet warm, impeccably prepared, and entirely engaging without letting her own personality ever steal the limelight from the music. She even managed to dress ideally, in a powder blue A-line gown, billowing to the ground beneath bronze accents around her neckline and waist. It matched the program cover to the exact shade, which could not have been planned, but was nevertheless just perfect.

I couldn’t take my ears off of Wolfram Rieger either. His voicing as well as the clarity of his lines and intention is unique. His pedalling is a lesson in perfection and he gives as much intention to the end of the notes he plays as to their beginnings. You could actually see the wings of the angel fluttering as he played “Wir haben Beide lange Zeit geschwiegen” and he controlled levels of pianissimo throughout the evening with admirable style and crisp articulation. In a word, his “diction” and shading matched Harteros’.

On top of all of that, the duo did not shy away from taking on the big boys of Lieder, performing almost exclusively very standard Viennese classics with incredible ease and admirable aplomb. The first half, entirely Schubert settings, included “Rastlose Liebe”, “Lied der Mignon”, “Im Abendrot”, “Nacht und Träume”, “Ganymed” and “Die Junge Nonne”. The second half was comprised of five Hugo Wolf settings. The official program ended with a set of Richard Strauss songs, including the hits “Cäcilie”, “Morgen” and “Zueignung”. And since they had already just performed all of the standard recital encores, they yielded to audiences hungry, applause-filled demands by tossing off Schubert’s “An die Musik” and “Seligkeit”, then Beethoven’s “Ich liebe Dich” before breezing off into the night and sending their audience off to their beds, already completely and utterly satisfied.  

Finally, a brief gripe. I must mention how incongruous with reality the term “Solistenabend” (soloists’ recital) is for these evenings at the Staatsoper. Wolfram Rieger is not a soloist, but he is a collaborative pianist of the very highest order, and was a solid half of the very successful music making this evening. When two people get on stage and brilliantly perform an evening of Schubert, Wolf and Strauss Lieder, it’s crazy to even hint that the evening is only about the singer. Why do we do this in the world of song? Is there something so particular about the vocal diva that allows brilliant pianists, accompanists and world class musicians to be consistently so minimized? A pianist performing Beethoven sonatas for piano and violin with a colleague never goes without equal mention, nor would a string quartet ever be presented as solo violinist with three accompanists. I would argue that pianists who specialize in art song with singers deserve the same respect. Could we not find a title more appropriate for this recital series?