German baritone Roman Trekel, who made a rare London appearance replacing Dorothea Röschmann at the Wigmore Hall on Friday night, is a highly respected singer known especially for his many Wagner roles as well as for his Lieder interpretation. I first encountered him singing Wolfram in Tannhaüser at the Bayreuth Festival some years ago.

The recital was part of the Wigmore series “Decade by Decade – 100 years of German Song 1810-1910” devised by the pianist Malcolm Martineau, and he and Trekel explored the Lieder of the 1840s which included a well-known song-cycle by Robert Schumann as well as the lesser known ballads by Carl Loewe.

They began the recital with six songs by Felix Mendelssohn. There were some real gems here: Venetianisches Gondellied conjured up a romantic evening rendezvous in Venice, whereas Altdeutsches Frühlingslied, with its sparse piano accompaniment, depicted the loneliness after the loss of a loved one. Unlike Schumann, Mendelssohn doesn’t often wear his heart on sleeve, but Nachtlied, composed about a month before his death, is an emotional song and there was genuine feeling in Trekel’s performance.

From the 125 songs Schumann composed during the year 1840, Trekel and Martineau chose Liederkreis op. 24 for this programme. Comprised of nine songs set to Heine’s text, it loosely narrates a poet’s love, despair and his art. Both musicians knew the work inside out and performed with refreshing freedom and spontaneity (especially in the first two songs), although perhaps due to over-familiarity, there was some untidy piano playing in a few of the songs. In the central song Schöne Wiege meiner Leiden, Trekel’s dark-hued voice brought out the deep despair and what he lacked in the high notes he compensated with emotional commitment.

The second half began with four songs by Clara Schumann, highlighting the diverse range of her style. Liebst du um Schönheit (1841) is a simple setting of a Rückert poem that reflects her happy days with Robert, whereas in Lorelei (1843), Clara succeeds in condensing a dramatic tale in three minutes!

In this country we don’t often get the opportunity to hear the ballads of Carl Loewe (1797-1869), perhaps because this genre doesn’t appeal so much to non-German speakers. But placed in the context of other works from the period as in this recital, we were able to enjoy them greatly. Trekel, a confident storyteller, vividly brought to life the scenes in Der Graf von Habsburg, a 10-minute ballad about the coronation of a Habsburg king and his past worthy deeds. My personal favourite was the last song, Der gefangene Admiral, the lament of an admiral locked up in a tower for thirty years without view of his beloved sea, which was presented with warmth yet without sentimentality.

As an encore, Trekel and Martineau returned to Robert Schumann: Du bist wie eine Blume from Myrthen. It was a lovely conclusion to a heart-warming recital on a winter evening.