German tenor Christoph Prégardien and English pianist Julius Drake teamed up at Walter Hall last night for one of the finest Liederabends that I have ever been privileged to hear. The first set was all Mahler; six songs from Das Knaben Wunderhorn plus one from the Rückert-Lieder. It started strongly with three essentially comic songs; all donkeys, geese and magic rings. The teamwork between the musicians was exemplary. and the attention to text by both parties penetrating. And then it was the little things that raised the bar from excellent to exceptional; the use of a pause, the slight lingering on a syllable, the accelerando into a comic line.
Then the mood changed and the bond with the audience became almost physical. Urlicht is a beautiful song; perhaps one of the most beautiful in the whole German repertory, and here it was simply, limpidly gorgeous, providing a bridge to the fierce, martial and slightly weird Wo die schönen Trompeten blasen and Revelge which got full value. The set closed with the haunting, elegiac, Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen with its fiendish piano part handled with aplomb by Drake and more gorgeous singing. Just a fabulous set.
If the assortment of eight Schubert songs that followed the interval didn’t quite have the same impact I don’t think it was due to the performances. There were popular favourites like Du bist die Ruh and Nacht und Träume plus the dark Totengrabers Heimweh and Winterabend to finish. There was more exemplary singing and playing but the songs just didn’t get under my skin the way the Mahler did. The encores were also Schubert songs with an excellent Der Tod und das Mädchen to close things out.
So two truly top notch concerts on the trot at the Toronto Summer Music Festival this week.