It's not often that God Himself appears on stage in San Francisco, but that is pretty much what we got a couple of weeks ago at Matthias Goerne's recital. Yes, Lief Ove Andsnes was also on stage, but I doubt many people were there for the pianist, as good as he is, and as happy a collaborator as he was on this occasion. No, it was the singer who got us in the door and utterly dominated the program.
What a program: songs by Mahler and Shostakovich, mostly grim, many about death. I'll put the full list at the end of this posting, though not in the order in which they were sung. The Mahler songs were from Kindertotenlieder, Des Knaben Wunderhorn, and the Rückert-Lieder, the Shostakovich from his Suite on Verses of Michaelangelo, Op. 145. I expect the Mahler songs are more familiar than the Shostakovich, especially because several appear in Mahler's orchestral song cycles or symphonies.
I have considered Goerne a great singer since his appearance as the baritone soloist a few years ago in Brahms's German Requiem at SF Symphony; where other singers tend to swing for the fences in "Herr, lehre doch mich," Goerne instead took an introspective approach, pulling the audience in to him rather than projecting outward. And that is the approach he took in this recital: I have never heard more intimate and inward singing from anyone, and rarely have I heard a singer maintain such perfection of line and tone throughout. I know that he breathed, but every song registered as an unbroken whole. He sang at a multitude of levels of piano and mezzo-piano, all with exceptionally beautiful tone, breaking to forte only occasionally and with devastating effect.
A breathtakingly beautiful and musical recital, in other words. I wish he'd hoisted a few of the songs to a higher key, because he has a spectacular high register and because many of the songs lay extremely low. But that's a tiny quibble about a near-perfect recital.
MAHLER: Ich atment' einen linden Duft; Wo die schönen Trompeten blasen; Es sungen drei Engel; Das irdische Leben; Nun seh' ich wohl, warum so dunkle Flammen; Wenn dein Mütterlein; Urlicht; Ich bin de Welt abhanden gekommen; Revelge; and Der Tamboursg'sellSHOSTAKOVICH: Morning, Op. 145, No. 2; Separation, Op. 145, No. 4; Night, Op. 145, No. 9;Eternity, Op. 145, No. 11; Dante, Op. 145, No. 6; and Death, Op. 145, No. 10 Encore: Beethoven, An die Hoffnung