Matthias Goerne © Marco Borggreve
Matthias Goerne
© Marco Borggreve
"Star" groupings of individually renowned artists aren’t always guaranteed to work, whether as ad hoc string quartets, or as in this case a long-esteemed baritone and a young star of the piano. But Matthias Goerne and Daniil Trifonov have an obvious artistic rapport that lets them take risks together, the biggest risk in their recital at Wigmore Hall being the decision to eschew the originally advertised interval and present their collection of songs by five composers as a continuous, 90-minute span, like a 34-number song cycle and with no room for applause until the very end. Moreover, emotionally this was hardly an easy ride given that the chosen songs all dealt with lost love or death, or both.

They began with Berg’s Four Songs Op.2, songs that dwell in a sleep-filled world of half-lights, and Trifonov’s pianism was particularly effective in its limpid outlining of motifs and harmony. Goerne’s trademark intensity also captivated here: he moves around more than many Lieder singers do when standing in front of a piano, but this is because the music and the words take over his whole body as he addresses his audience, and the experience becomes as compelling as in any actor in the theatre.

They moved on, with barely a moment’s break, to a song cycle proper, Schumann’s Dichterliebe. There were times here, such as in the stentorian Im Rhein, im heilige Strome, where Trifonov played out just a little too much, almost forgetting he was accompanying rather than a soloist on stage, but it didn’t seem to faze Goerne, who upped his game to compensate. Elsewhere, some of the baritone’s most exquisite singing was in the songs where he could shade his voice, reducing it almost to a whisper – for instance in two numbers where tears relate to song, Aus meinen Tränen and Hör’ ich das Liedchen klingen. His word-painting was always acute and detailed, and where he sang a phrase such as "I must weep bitter tears", one could really sense the bitterness in his delivery. Trifonov inevitably excelled in Schumann’s often extensive piano postludes to each of the songs, carrying on the mood of the vocal writing in an often exquisitely lingering way.

Daniil Trifonov © Dario Acosta | DG
Daniil Trifonov
© Dario Acosta | DG
Schumann’s cycle ends with the poet asking where he can bury his love and sorrow. The rest of the programme moved into the dark world of death itself from three composers who themselves were in the twilight years of their lives. Wolf’s Three Poems of Michelangelo were the last songs he wrote before being carted off to the asylum, where he was to die some six years later. Their harmonies are perhaps understandably opaque and elusive, but three songs from Shostakovichs Suite on Verses of Michelangelo Buonarroti – examples of that composer’s spare lucidity in his last days – made an apt if poignant contrast. Goerne was at his most expressionistically intense in both of these sets, enunciating like a latter-day Wozzeck, and in exploiting his limitless range of vocal colours and means of articulation got to the heart of these morbid texts.

It remained for the agnostic Brahms, seeking solace in biblical verse in his penultimate year, to bring this "dark night of the soul" of a recital to some sort of positive close. His Four Serious Songs Op.121 not only brought the best out of Trifonov’s resourceful pianism, tapping the music’s poetic depths, but also inspired Goerne to lead us out of the gloom and towards a radiant glow of hope at the end of the fourth song, with a final peroration that seemed to follow one all the way home, as it replayed in the memory.