Christoph PrÈgardien, Wigmore Hall

The sequence had been carefully chosen to form a circular progression of
emotions, from pained lamentation to delusory hope, returning to bittersweet
despair; and the songs were delivered with a sure sense of musical
relationships and overall form to create a naturally flowing narrative and
musical whole.

Drake’s role in shaping the pace and overall form was not inconsiderable.
This was apparent from the opening bars of Schubert’s graveside lament,
‘Tiefes Lied’ (‘Deep Sorrow’), in which the squalling roars of wind
which gust through the piano texture, suggesting the speaker’s turbulent
soul, were tempered by soothing diminuendos bringing calm at the end of each

The six texts by the tormented, unstable Ernst Konrad Schulze explore the
poet’s unrequited passion for two sisters, Adelheid and C‰cilie Tyshcen;
they may employ many a poetic clichÈ to depict Schulze’s self-absorbed
longing and delusions, but Schubert’s responses are often anything but

Roaring winds also burst “across the pine slopes” in ‘‹ber
Wildemann’ (‘Over-looking Wildemann’), the voice now in octaves with the
bass, ominously dark and suggesting a repressed violence within. Desperation
turns to rueful consolation, as the poet regards the beauty of the mountain
landscape, and Drake and PrÈgardien shaped a thrilling climax, the tenor’s
forthright, ringing line ecstatically declaring his fleeting elation, “O
love, O love,/ O breath of May!”

The contrast with the tenor’s soft, dreamy tone at the conclusion of the
preceding ‘Um Mitternacht’ (‘At Midnight’) — as the singer calls for
the “Sweet echo” of his beloved’s words to lull his head to gentle
rest” — was startling, and made still more dramatic by the unceasing
movement from Drake’s tender postlude into the opening bars of the next song.
Rhythmic nuance was also used to expressive effect, the apparent simplicity of
the sentiments and idiom deepened by the subtle rhythmic variations of the main
melodic motif, shared by voice and piano, at times calm and stable, then
enlivened, even agitated.

Even the poetic limitations of ‘An mein Herz’ (‘To my heart’) were
overcome by Drake’s fierce chain of restless ostinato chords, first loud then
soft, with major and minor tonalities interchanging, to suggest the futility of
Romantic obsession. Initially echoing this reckless agitation, the singer
finally turns to a quieter introspection, and here PrÈgardien employed a
wonderful half-voice to suggest brief, if illusory, solace — “Let us
bravely endure/ as long as tears still flow”.

The Schulze texts concluded with ‘Auf der Br¸cke’ (‘On the
bridge’), Drake’s moto perpetuo and a sequential rising motif in left hand
providing forward momentum as the poet-speaker’s horse gallops “briskly on
without restraint”, away from his beloved, through darkness towards the
“bright eye of longing”. With an exhilarated tone, PrÈgardien conveyed the
protagonist’s initial bold confidence, before doubt entered and a momentary
shadow veiled the close.

Schumann’s settings of Nikolaus Lenau deepened the melancholic mood still
further, only the opening ‘Lied eines Schmiedes’ (‘Blacksmith’s
song’) portraying peace and contentment; here, Drake conjured a suitable
brassy tone to evoke both the clang of the anvil and the rhythms of the
“little steed’s” journey, while PrÈgardien brought a soft sweetness to
the peaceful closing ruminations.

The control and modulation of sentiment which both performers achieved was
striking, both between and within songs, perhaps most remarkably in
‘Requiem’, where PrÈgardien’s dramatic projection of the poet’s
elation, “when he beholds his Lord/ in Heavenly glory”, faded moments later
to a more subdued quietude as he hears the “lovely song” of the angel’s

Most affecting of the Lenau songs were ‘Meine Rose’ (‘My rose’) and
‘Der schwere Abend’ (‘The oppressive evening’). In the former,
Schumann’s doleful chromaticisms and appoggiaturas, and unpredictable
harmonic progressions, prompted thoughtful and deeply expressive responses from
singer and pianist. The sudden change of harmonic direction at the close of the
first stanza of ‘Meine Rose’ — evoking the sombre mysteries of the
‘deep, dark well’ from which the poet draws water to revive the waning
flower — were enhanced by Drake’s eloquent shaping of the piano’s falling
motif; similarly, PrÈgardien’s restrained, introspection deepened the
poignant longing of the repetition of the opening verse.

The Eb Minor tonality, dark register and repetitive circular motif of ‘Der
schwere Abend’ conveyed the brooding insularity of the poet’s (and perhaps
the composer’s) depression, punctuated only by the singer’s rhetorical
exclamations. The culminating angry cry, “I wished us both dead/ in the
anguish of my heart”, and the sustained tolling of the final piano chord,
left one in no doubt of the self-destructive fury and despair of the

After the interval came Dichterliebe. The performers moved swiftly from song
to song, creating excitement and energy but also intimacy. PrÈgardien’s
attention to the details of the text was superb, from the fragile dissolution
of the voice in the final lines of each stanza in the opening ‘Im
wunderschˆnen Monat Mai’ (‘In the wondrous month of May’), to the
pointing of individual words. Thus a rich, earnest timbre highlighted the
unique perfection of she who is “small, fine, pure and rare” (“Die
Kleine, die Feine, die Reine, die Eine”) in ‘Die Rose, die Lilie, die
Taube’ (‘Rose, Lily, Dove’); while the tenor’s dark cloudy tone at the
conclusion of ‘When ich in deine Augen seh’ (‘When I look into your
eyes’), underpinned by the following tumbling piano gestures, conveyed the
poet’s torment: “but when you say: I love you!/ I must weep bitter

PrÈgardien revealed a round baritonal warmth in ‘Im Rhein, im heiligen
Strome’ (‘In the Rhine, the holy river’) to evoke his sincere fervour, as
sacred and sexual love coalesce – the eyes, lips and cheeks of the
cathedral’s beloved Lady becoming “the image of my love’s”. A simple
clarity, complemented by Drake’s sparse accompaniment, characterised “Hˆr
ich das Kiedchen klingen” (‘When I hear the little song’), perfectly
capturing the unaffected nature of the remembered song, and the unmovable,
unalleviated grief which ultimately erupts in a profound piano postlude.

The performers’ focus and control never wavered, but in ‘Ich hab’ im
Traum geweinet’ (‘I wept in my dreams’) heights of expressive affect were
reached. Nearing the end of the cycle, after a consequential pause PrÈgardien
restrainedly commenced the unaccompanied opening line, the steadily controlled
monotone darkened by a semitonal ‘sob’, the poet’s almost suffocating
grief intimated by Drake’s dry punctuating chords. The repetitions of the
refrain and the confined contours of the almost drone-like melodic line stress
the self-consuming nature of the poet’s obsession; and the piano languorously
echoed the voice in the interlude between stanzas two and three, Drake movingly
heightening the repeating plagal cadences, thereby weakening any hint of solace
that the poet’s dream of continuing love may offer. In the final stanza,
PrÈgardien allowed the vocal line to dissolve, his fragmented repetitions of a
single pitch disturbed by restless dissonant harmony.

Self-regarding obsession, disillusionment and self-delusion may have
remained unrelieved at the end of this recital, but such an intelligent
interpretation by a perfectly attuned partnership, performing with such
eloquent beauty, was more than enough recompense.

Claire Seymour



Tiefes Leid (Im J‰nner 1817)
An mein Herz
Um Mitternacht
‹ber Wildemann
Im Fr¸hling
Auf der Br¸cke


Lied eines Schmiedes
Meine Rose
Kommen und Scheiden
Die Sennin
Der schwere Abend

image_description=Christoph PrÈgardien [Photo © Marco Borggreve]
product_by=Christoph PrÈgardien, tenor; Julius Drake, piano. Wigmore Hall, London, Tuesday 17 July 2012.
product_id=Above: Christoph PrÈgardien [Photo © Marco Borggreve]