BBC Proms Recital | Cadogan Hall, London | August 2014
“… the pair began with a regular item for followers of the Schwanewilms’s recitals, Debussy’s seldom-heard quartet of Wagnerian settings published in 1893. At the time it was fashionable for composers to supply their own texts, and Debussy’s, with choice couplets such as the opening line of ‘De fleurs’ (Of Flowers) – in which the humidity of a summer evening felt close to the touch – which translates as “In the tedium so desolately green of sorrow’s hothouse”. The lengthy vocal phrases were handled effortlessly by Schwanewilms, whose creamy tone gave the notes presence and precision, and who made the clunky phrases altogether plausible. Martineau had a lot of work to do here, his task being to set the changes of mood, which he did with clarity and expression. Both performers held considerable tension even through the longest mélodie, the first alone weighing in at seven minutes. In ‘De grève’, one of Debussy’s early sea-scapes, we felt the turbulent tide through Martineau’s piano. Schwanewilms excelled in her control of pianissimo notes throughout the four songs.
Schwanewilms is a specialist in Richard Strauss Lieder, while Martineau has recently recorded all the songs with a variety of singers for Twopianists. The current selection was intriguing, a septet performed without a break spanning 1885 to 1901. The earliest composed is also the longest (‘Geduld’), positioned at the centre of the group. This song about patience is anything but, neither in the wordy vocal part, which Schwanewilms deconstructed easily, nor in the restless piano writing, where Martineau communicated a multitude of lines with impressive lucidity.
Schwanewilms’s evocation of “Weite Wiesen im Dämmergrau” (Broad meadows in grey dusk) in ‘Traum durch die Dämmerung’ was soft and ethereal, as was the portrayal of the nocturnal woodland in ‘Waldseligkeit’, where the dark shadows cast by the pianist’s left hand spoke more of intimacy than threat. Martineau’s grand introduction to ‘Das Rosenband’ was matched by Schwanewilms, who effortlessly navigated the wide intervals of the closing stanza, bringing rapture to “Und ums uns ward Elysium” (and Paradise bloomed about us). This was in contrast to the downcast opening song of separation, ‘Ach Lieb, ich muss nun schneiden’, which gave indication of the dark side to these settings. This was nowhere more evident than in the final moments of ‘Wer lieben will, muss leiden’ (He who loves must suffer), rescued by a masterly modulation from the composer. The heavy-hearted text has a final phrase that literally died in Schwanewilms’s arms, Martineau laying the song to rest in a magical return to the home key.
Schwanewilms was a great visual communicator, especially in the final song, ‘Ach was Kummer, Qual und Schmerzen’ (Ah, the grief, the torment, the pain). This strangely elusive number found her singing deliberately flat, shrugging her shoulders and casting sidelong glances at the audience in the hummed refrains.”
Ben Hogwood, www.classicalsource.com
“Debussy’s own particular sound world and aesthetic is one that thrives on attention to detail and the realisation of it in performance. All this Malcolm Martineau provided with his dextrous touch and feeling for the subtleties of line and timbre throughout the accompaniments….
One would be hard pressed even with a French singer to match the depth of inner desolation [Schwanewilms] found [in De fleurs], or in some lines from De soir, the set’s final song. Schwanewilms’ mastery of breath control was continually in evidence and it aided her in producing restrained singing. De soir was imbued with moments of infectious joy from the start – picking up on the impulsively impish tempo adopted by Martineau…
The lieder by Richard Strauss were given with no less lightness of touch than the Debussy… She effortlessly brought out the depth of pain of a lover’s departure within Ach Lieb, ich muss nun scheiden and contrasted it with the lingering thoughts of love within Traum durch die Dämmerung. Here, both her ability to convey the warm glow of waking from a dream of one’s love combined with the lingering subtleties of text echoed in the tempo of Martineau’s discretely ebbing accompaniment were contributing factors. Radiance of tone albeit within a restrained dynamic range met with a savouring of the emotion behind Klopstock’s text in Das Rosenband. With the difficulties of tempo proving no impediment for her, Geduld fully demonstrated Schwanewilms’ abilities a protagonist within a private melodrama, drawing the audience into a world of a woman that shifts from hope via reluctant acceptance to utter desolation at the wish of her lover. Waldseligkeit was fully ecstatic, its most private emotional canvas laid before the audience with beauteous tone held under careful check. An wholly appropriate note of sternness entered proceedings with Wer lieben will, muss leiden. Another Alsatian folk song, Ach was Kummer, Qual und Schmerzen, brought the recital to a close. The text, of a woman who dare not reveal what she feels for and about her lover, led to discreetly timed comic interplay and furtive glances between Schwanewilms and Martineau. Given the generous thanks they offered each other throughout the ensuing applause, there could be little doubt of the artistic esteem in which this regular partnership hold each other.”
Evan Dickerson, www.musicomh.com, 19th August
“… it was clear from the performance that Schwanewilms and Martineau are a very assured partnership. Technically I could find nothing to fault; they moved as one throughout… when a performance is so polished it leaves the listener free to focus on expression, nuance and colour… I am hugely envious of Schwanewilms’ control (there were some delicious high, floated pianissimo moments) and Martineau’s delicate playing…”
Penny Homer, www.bachtrack.com 19th August