With a flurry of energy, tenor Michael Schade bounded onto the stage and delivered a triplet of melting Mozart love songs, dissolving the distance between stage and public with fearless eye contact. Already fully warmed up, his voice displayed its versatile colours from the beginning, especially in soft and mezza voce singing. Accompanist Justus Zeyen was stylishly light-fingered on the piano, and the evening got off to an excellent start.

Michael Schade © Harald Hoffmann
Michael Schade
© Harald Hoffmann

As befits a much sought-after Mozartian leading man, Michael Schade does not only sing these songs, but recounts them vividly. Not just Mozart, but also Schubert, Brahms and Strauss. With a well-judged shrug or arm gesture he pulls the audience into his storytelling: one can go along or refuse to be persuaded, but reacting indifferently is hardly an option. Then there is his skillfully plied, multifaceted voice. With ironclad control he can seamlessly blend several vocal shades within the same phrase. Unadorned, his pellucid piano singing is directly seductive and the top, although slightly acidic in tone, is unfailingly secure and galvanising at full volume.

With such copious interpretative tools at his disposal, Mr Schade made the longest pieces on the programme, both by Mozart, the most memorable items in the first half. The tearful “Das Lied der Trennung" (Parting Song) was touching with a slash of raw pain, with Mr Zeyen in perfect emotional consonance on the piano. “Die ihr des unermeßlichen Weltalls Schöpfer ehrt” (You who revere the Creator) is a cantata propagating and extolling the Freemasons’ ideals of brotherhood and enlightenment. As Mr Schade explained in a brief introduction, this is what an older Tamino from Mozart’s Masonic opera The Magic Flute would sound like: a more exuberant version of his spiritual guide, Sarastro. Mr Schade delivered this impassioned address with conviction, obviously delighting in the fact that Mozart wrote such a fitting postlude to one of his signature roles, before the opera’s première. A set of Schubert songs separated these two very satisfying Mozart works. Again Mr Schade deployed his trademark soft singing to great effect, as in the acute yearning of “Der Jüngling an der Quelle” (The Youth by the Spring). In “Ganymed” a glisteningly sung beginning built up to the youth’s ecstatic ascent to Olympus, the clarion high notes almost too big for the intimate Recital Hall. One wished that the dynamic contrast in Mr Zeyen’s accompaniment was less stark, his legato a bit more lingering. Unlike in the Mozart, the pair’s emotional thermometers seemed to be uncalibrated. This divergence became more evident in the second half, dedicated to Brahms and Strauss.

Mr Schade limned the words of the Brahms songs as thoughtfully as before the intermission. There was plenty of beautiful singing, although a slight constriction crept into some of the piani. “An eine Äolsharfe” (To an Aeolian Harp) was poignantly sung, with filigree phrasing, and a very softly rendered “Lerchengesang” (Song of the Larks) was the embodiment of its first three words: “Ethereal, distant voices…”. The penetrating quality and projected breadth of Mr Schade’s voice proved a great match for the intensity and sensuality of Strauss’ six Lotosblätter songs. A pity then, that Mr Zeyen’s accompaniment lacked the ebb-and-flow movement that buoys Strauss’ exquisite melodies. Mr Schade’s singing retained its concentrated heat to the end, in spite of some signs of fatigue, but Mr Zeyen’s playing remained subdued in the final Strauss set, even in the limpid loveliness of “Morgen” (Tomorrow) and the rapture of “Zueignung” (Dedication). Happily, singer and pianist rediscovered interpretative consonance and élan in the encore which followed the hearty final applause: Schubert’s jaunty “Der Musensohn” (The Son of the Muses).

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