Mauro Peter at Wigmore Hall

In May of that year, he made his lieder debut at the
Schubertiade in Hohenems, performing Die Schˆne M¸llerin with Helmut
Deutsch; September saw him come to international prominence when he performed
the same song cycle at the Schubertiade in Schwarzenberg.

Since then, Peter has been forging a successful international career. He
made his debut, with Deutsch, at the Wigmore Hall in January 2014 and now, just
as the Wigmore Live CD recording of that performance of Die Schˆne
is released, the young tenor has returned to the Hall, with
pianist James Baillieu, to perform songs by Beethoven, Schumann, Brahms and

Peter has a flawless technique and a suavely appealing voice. The tone is
bright and clear, the line wonderfully mellifluous, the intonation true and the
phrasing sensitive. There was not the merest blemish during the whole evening.
His manner on the platform was comfortable and courteous; indeed, everything
about Peter’s performance was stylish and gracious. But, such qualities,
while beguiling the listener’s ear, do not necessary make for a truly
engaging lieder performance, and during the evening — most particularly in
the first half of the recital — I felt that lyric beauty was often
‘standing in’ for musical probing and expressive nuance.

The same could not be said of Peter’s accompanist. James Baillieu, who
himself won the Accompanist’s Prize at the Hall’s own International Song
Competition in 2009, managed to be both restrained and unfailingly sensitive to
his soloist and endless inventive with the musical details, all of which were
communicated with clarity and elegance.

The duo began with Beethoven’s An die ferne Geliebte and made a
coherent narrative of the sequence of songs. Peter’s long-phrased evenness
and gentle tone was just right for the introductory song, ‘Auf dem H¸gel
sitz ich’ (I sit on the hill), in which the poet-narrator gazes mistily into
the distant meadows dreaming of his lost love. Baillieu judged the final
stringendo just right, conveying the protagonist’s optimism and joy.
The subsequent ‘Wo die Berge so blau’ was also appropriately light and
dreamy, and moved straight into ‘Leichte Segler in den Hˆhen’ (Light
clouds sailing on high), in which Baillieu’s ability to paint visual and
aural scenes was exemplified by the clearly defined, dancing triplets of the
introduction — the reflection of the clouds in the rippling brook. Peter used
the text well to create the springy buoyancy of these wisps as they are ruffled
by the wind in ‘Diese Wolken in den Hˆhen’ (These clouds on high), while
the concluding stanza of ‘Es kehret der Maien’ (May returns) was tenderly
doleful: ‘Wenn alles, was leibet/ Der Fr¸hling vereint’/ Nur unserer
Liene/ Kein Fr¸hling erscheint, Und Tr‰nen sind all ihr Gewinnen.’ (When
spring unites all lovers, our love alone knows no spring, and tears are its
only gain.) The final song, ‘Numm sie hin den, diese Leider’ (Accept, then,
these songs), injected greater emotional depth and tension, as the tempo urged
forward, then ebbed. Peter found darker colours and a weightier, open sound as
he impressed his songs upon the ‘beloved’, before the piano’s fading
descent brought us back to the stillness of the opening.

Six songs from Schumann’s Myrthen followed, the best of which was
‘Der Nuflbaum’ (The walnut tree) in which, above Baillieu’s even arcing
semiquavers, Peter employed a beautiful, floating head voice to convey the
delicacy of the tree’s blossoms, which gracefully bend their heads towards
each other as if to kiss and caress. In a soft whisper he told of the
blossom’s song, while Baillieu emphasised the harmonic nuances and subtle
rubato to suggest the elusiveness of the maiden’s dreams which the melody
relates. There was more variety of vocal hues than in the Beethoven cycle:
‘Wildmung’ (Dedication) had a firmer insistence, while the first of the
‘Lieder aus dem Schenkenbuch im Divan’ (Songs from the Book of the
Cupbearer) was colourful and droll, closing with a witty piano postlude which
recalled the chirpy confidence of the dotted rhythms of ‘Freisinn’ (Free
spirit). The two ‘Venetianische Lieder’ (Venetian Songs) were
disappointing, however, for while the piano’s harmonies, rhythms and textures
twisted suggestively, the vocal line lacked the required air of expectancy and
possibility. Schumann’s main aim when he published Myrthen in 1840
was to express the gamut and extremity of emotions that he felt for his new
wife and to embody the richness of their life together which lay ahead, and I
did not feel that Peter was successful in capturing the diversity and fullness
evoked by these songs.

Musical mellifluousness similarly came before intensity of feeling and
dramatic strength in the Brahms’ lieder which followed the interval. And
while Peter enunciated the German text clearly, there was an occasional
tendency to swallow syllables and consonants, sacrificing meticulousness of
diction for the beauty of the melodic line. Generally I’d have liked Peter to
have made much more of the text. In ‘Versunken’ (Drowned), for example, in
which Brahms set words by Felix Schumann, the last son of Robert and Clara,
there is passion and rapture in the poet-speaker’s account of his descent to
the dark depths and transfiguration in the final stanza as the waves engulf
him, as ‘Es schimmert in Regenbogen/ Die Welt von ferne herein’. But, while
the grace and clarity of Baillieu’s rippling arpeggios suggested the
sparkling illumination of the deep and the piano’s dissonances seemed to
foreshadow tragedy, the vocal line was less theatrical and stirring.

The shapely arches and reflective mood of ‘Wie Melodien zieht es mir’
(Thoughts, like melodies), the text of which (by Klaus Groth) discusses the
beauty of words and how they can guide our thoughts, suited Peter better,
though. And, in ‘Feldeinsamkeit’ (Alone in fields), he found greater
mystery, the final stanza sinking in register to calm slumberous depths: ‘Mir
ist, als ob ich l‰ngst gestorben bin,/ Und ziehe selig mit durch ew’ge
R‰ume.’ (I feel as if I have long been dead, drifting happily with them
through eternal space.)

A selection from Wolf’s Mˆrike Lieder concluded the recital and
at last there was drama and a conscious attempt to convey conflict, resolution
and change, as well as to capture single moods. ‘Lied eines Verliebten’ (A
lover’s song) was a strong start to the sequence: the dynamic contrasts of
the piano introduction, with its tense off-beat right-hand semiquavers
established a restless mood, and the melodic curves of the vocal line, while
characteristically smooth and even, were more diversely and piquantly coloured.
The frustration and self-disgust caused by the poet-speaker’s obsession with
‘the unruly girl’ was brilliantly captured in the piano’s final stabbing
sforzando chord. In ‘Der Knabe und das Immlein’ (The boy and the
bumble bee) there was an intriguing contrast between the sparkling clarity of
the piano accompaniment, with its buzzing trills and its delicate
counter-melodies, and the almost ethereal abstraction of the vocal line, as
Peter perfectly communicated the hesitancy and timidity, interrupted by moments
of fierce elation, of first love. In ‘An die Geliebte’ (To the beloved),
the tenor’s head voice was used most expressively, first conveying the deep
calm of the poet-speaker as he gazes at his angelic beloved, then the
weightlessness he feels as he plunges through emotions chasms. The illustrative
gestures of the piano accompaniment in ‘Der Tambour’ (The drummer-boy)
brought both humour and pathos as Baillieu tapped out the drum’s sleepy beat
above tremulous rolls in the bass, the exaggerated tightness of the rhythms
mocking the young soldier boy’s homesick fantasies. The latter are sharpened
by his sighting of the moon which, though it shines ‘in French’, still
reminds him of his loved one, and here Peter delicately floated the phrase,
‘Da scheint der Mond in mein Gezelt’ to evoke the pathos of the boy’s

It seems to be tempting fate to write about the final song, ‘Abschied’
(Goodbye), which depicts a critic being kicked down the stairs to the strains
of a drunken Viennese waltz, but here I felt that the markedly different
approaches of the two performers was sharply foregrounded. Peter struggled to
summon the requisite theatricality for the opening recitative-like section while Baillieu entered fully into the spirit of the
satire romping through the postlude with flair and wit. That’s not to suggest
that the duo were ‘at odds’ during the performance. Certainly the musical
accomplishments were many and considerable, and Baillieu was an unwaveringly
sensitive support for the tenor. Peter has all the technical weapons in his
arsenal; now he needs to reflect on how he wants to use them.

Claire Seymour

Artists and programme:

Mauro Peter, tenor; James Baillieu, piano. Wigmore Hall, London,
Thursday 4th June 2015.

Ludwig van Beethoven: An die ferne Geliebte Op.98; Robert
Schumann Myrthen Op. 25 (‘Widmung’, ‘Freisinn’, ‘Der
Nuflbaum’, ‘Lieder aus dem Schenkenbuch im Divan I and II’, ‘Zwei
Venetianische Lieder I and II’, ‘Du bist wie eine Blume ‘; Johannes
Brahms ‘Meerfahrt’ Op.96 No.4, ‘Nachtigall’ Op.97 No.1 ,
‘Versunken’ Op.86 No.5 , ‘Wie Melodien zieht es mir’ Op.105 No.1,
‘Feldeinsamkeit’ Op.86 No.2, ‘Geheimnis’ Op.71 No.3; Hugo Wolf
Mˆrike Lieder (‘Lied eines Verliebten’, ‘Der Knabe und das
Immlein’ ‘An die Geliebte’, ‘Nimmersatte Liebe’, ‘Der Tambour’,

image_description=Mauro Peter [Photo © Franziska Schrˆdinger]
product_title=Mauro Peter at Wigmore Hall
product_by=A review by Claire Seymour
product_id=Above: Mauro Peter [Photo © Franziska Schrˆdinger]