Liederabend | Wigmore Hall, London | December 2011
Combining innate musicianship and superb technique, Anne Schwanewilms showed once again that she can run the emotional gamut from light-hearted joy to deep anguish in this flawless performance with pianist, Charles Spencer.
“The songs from Mahler’s Des Knaben Wunderhorn offered Schwanewilms the opportunity to demonstrate a great range of characterisation and dramatic situation, embracing intimacy and exuberance. (…) An intense and impassioned setting of Heine’s ‘Loreley’ brought the Lisztian sequence to a close, and enabled Schwanewilms once again to demonstrate her consummately controlled delivery of narrative. (…) The power and precision of Schwanewilms’s climactic high notes in the first part (of ‘Scheiden and Meiden’) contrasted with the final farewells, ‘Ade! Ade!’, which she delivered in a loving, almost vulnerable whisper.
(In ‘Lob des hohen Verstandes’ (‘Praise of high intellect’), the cuckoo and nightingale compete to be) the prize songster in a musical contest adjudicated by a donkey. Schwanewilms relished the individual ‘voices’ given to each ‘character’, and concluded with an alarmingly realistic ass’s bray! After the gentle ‘Rheinlegendchen’ (‘Little Rhine Legend’), in which the atmospheric rocking of the piano accompaniment perfectly captured the lapping waters as they flow timelessly to the ocean, in the final song from the sequence, ‘Wo die schönen Trompeten blasen’(‘Where the splendid trumpets sound’) Schwanewilms displayed her lustrous, rich tone to full effect, signifying a transition from the whimsical naivety of Mahler’s early songs to the complex emotional profundities of the composer’s five Rückert Lieder.
Here, Schwanewilms and her accompanist rose to majestic heights of musicianship. The contemplative intimacy of ‘Liebst du um Schönheit’ (‘If you love for beauty’) was particularly stunning. Schwanewilms can produce an effortless, floating line, spinning out a high thread of sound, endlessly and ethereally until, almost weightlessly, the thrillingly tender pianissimo disperses into the air. She balances eloquence and grace with deep affective insight, as was supremely apparent in a spell-binding rendition of ‘Um Mitternacht’ (‘At midnight’). Here, the sustained focus of her lower range was in evidence, the controlled and crafted phrases indicating the valiant endurance of the protagonist. The final song, ‘Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen’ (‘I am lost to the world’) probed expressive depths, closing with a spine-chilling piano coda; the long silence which subsequently embraced performers and audience alike was a testament to the epic scale of the emotions evoked and communicated.
Schwanewilms seems to have it all: unfailingly precise intonation, a polished, gleaming sound, almost superhuman breath control. She also has considerable stage presence and self-assurance: utterly in command of the voice and the material, she revealed a profound understanding of these songs while retaining a sense of freshness and spontaneity. The communication between singer and pianist, and with the audience, was sincere and generous. No wonder the applause was rapturous.”