Disappointment with New York recent opera offerings leads one’s attention naturally to the city’s active recital life. This week at Carnegie Hall featured two noteworthy is sometimes overlooked performers. January 23 featured the recital in the Hall’s smaller Zankel auditorium of the German soprano Dorothea Röschmann, an accomplished Mozartean of note around the world. Ms. Röschmann possesses superb enunciation and a well trained voice, but the pastiche of songs in her recital revealed its limitations as well as its strengths. By far the most enjoyable part of the evening was the final selection of songs by Hugo Wolf. Their tight harmonics fit better with the soprano’s prominent middle voice than the more lyrical Schubert songs that began the evening. Since both song sets contained music set to four of the same poems by Goethe, the comparison was instructive, both in vocal terms specific to Ms. Röschmann and in relation to the evolution of nineteenth-century music. It was a bit unfortunate that a more direct comparison was impossible due to the Richard Strauss and Liszt songs inserted in between. At a few moments, especially in Strauss’s “September,” Ms. Röschmann really shined, but at others, notably in Liszt’s “Die Loreley,” the dramatic highs sounded too constrained by her upper range limits. While the Wolf songs were truly affecting, much of the evening unfolded with acceptable technical skill that lacked a truly dramatic reading. Malcolm Martineau’s deftly sensitive playing affirmed his reputation as one of the greatest recital accompanists performing today. The poetry of the songs would have gained much from a subtler and more lyrical vocal effort.
The next evening, January 24, saw the solo performance of another artist with definite strengths and weaknesses. The Romanian pianist Radu Lupu has been a fixture of the international music scene since he won the Van Cliburn Prize in 1966. Critical comment typically emphasizes the understatement in his playing, and this concert was no exception. To begin again with the final segment of the recital, which dominated its second half, Lupu’s technique was most effective in music written to be understated: Claude Debussy’s Preludes. Working through Book II of Debussy’s oeuvre in its entirety, Lupu perfectly captured the composer’s intention that his music should evoke an absolute reality – not the impressionism of the painting school so popular in his time, but the real moods and emotions that guide our psyches. The technique is extraordinarily well suited to Debussy, but the earlier part of the evening lacked in the absence of more voluble interpretations. Schubert’s Impromptus (Lupu played Nos. 1-4) depend on a stronger interpretive hand to draw out their romantic color. César Franck’s Prelude, Chorale, and Fugue betrays the overpowering influence of Wagner and needed a more decisive hand. Nevertheless, the excellent Debussy playing made the evening worthwhile.
– Paul du Quenoy