There are few London venues that manage to combine a real sense of intimacy with an international roster of artists quite as well as Julius Drake’s concert series at Middle Temple Hall. In this recital he was joined by German soprano Annette Dasch for a programme that began with a complete performance of Schumann’s Kerner Lieder.

Annette Dasch © Manfred Baumann
Annette Dasch
© Manfred Baumann

As one expects from a seasoned operatic performer, Dasch’s approach to diction was certainly diligent, but in a venue as small as this her rolled Rs and percussive Ts seemed more than a little overdone, often disrupting the flow of legato lines. In the second song of the set “Stirb, Lieb’ und Freud’!” it took Dasch’s voice a while to settle down – but when it did, the song’s simple refrain was haunting. The song’s extreme compass was well managed too, with a particularly solid lower range. Elsewhere, Dasch sometimes struggled to contain her large voice in mezzo forte passages, though she repeatedly found breathtaking pianissimos – the last song of the set, “Alte Laute” being a case in point. Here, set up brilliantly by Drake (piano playing as good as you will hear anywhere), Dasch’s pure and penetrating tone dug right to the heart of this song’s deep undercurrent of sadness.

The Kerner Lieder are not always performed as a totality, but this performance made a very good case for it, particularly in the last three songs. The duo knew exactly when to let the audience breathe after a song, and when to move straight on – as they did so brilliantly between the incredibly concentrated “Frage” and the following “Stille Tränen”. Both, too, took plenty of risks when it came to dynamics. Dasch’s impassioned outburst in the last stanza of “Stille Tränen” will have been too raw for some of the audience’s tastes but you could hardly fault the emotion that was behind it. Drake’s incredible sensitivity of touch at the strange, ambivalent end of “Wer machte dich so krank?” was judged to perfection – absolutely spine-chilling.

Some Heine settings by Mendelssohn followed the interval – a varied selection of songs concerning dreams. If Dasch’s interpretation of “Morgengruβ” didn’t quite convince, the next “Reiselied” where the protagonist’s final question was posed brilliantly. Similarly, the confusion of “Allnächtlich im Traume” was brilliantly captured whilst the last – “Neue Liebe” – was full of character though here the exaggerated consonants rather got in the way of the fast patter.

Dasch really came into her element in the Wagner Lieder that concluded the programme. Finally able to let rip, she produced huge legato lines which displayed impressive breath control. There was real subtlety here too, though, particularly in the last stanza of “Stehe still”, where the amazing sweep from almost motionless wonder to cosmic vastness was vividly captured. If Drake helped bring out this song’s more subtle, intimate elements, at times he wasn’t orchestral enough, the opening blast of “Schmerzen” being a case in point. Similarly his prelude to “Im Treibhaus” could have had more weight, though the insight he brought to the grating whole tone elements in the postlude more than made up for this.

In these Wagner songs the power and operatic nature of Dasch’s voice were exhilarating, but actually the most moving and memorable moments of this recital were those moments in the Schumann where Dasch abandoned all that in favour of something more vulnerable and personal.