Stravinsky may or may not even have been correct to call it a sine qua non (before, in imitable style, demolishing the claim that it was in anyway enough). Whether there is sincerity in the deliberate presentation of insincerity and in irony is, perhaps, a dialectical question for another day. (For what it is worth, I think the answer is probably ‘yes – probably’.’ Artistic sincerity is surely, however, a good starting-point, a fine way to draw the listener in. And so it was here from Arcayürek, ably accompanied by Simon Lepper, in a wide-eyed (wide-voiced?!) Frühlingsglaube, properly vernal.
The programme’s progression made sense too. Without overt didacticism there were paths, musical, verbal, thematic to follow, to make one’s one way through this Schubert recital. Musical – in this case, rhythmic – discipline enabled Mayrhofer’s song to the Dioscuri to take us further on our way, whilst the sadness of hisAbendstern shone through in voice and piano alike. In between, arastlose (restless) account of Goethe’s Rastlose Liebe likewise relied upon the freedom born of such discipline. The same poet’s – and, of course, composer’s – Am Flusse flowed nicely, without a wearisome attempt to make it into something it is not.
The Jüngling auf dem Hügel (youth on the hill) could then look down upon what we had seen, heard, experienced so far, the music the key to the words and vice versa, Schubert and his present-day collaborators winningly attentive to the alchemic balance of Lieder-performance. The death knell rang out on the piano perhaps all the more clearly, at any rate movingly, for the lack of underlining. We were trusted to listen for ourselves. Impetuous relief, then, came at just the right time with Der Schiffer, prior to a wan and worldweary Doppelgänger, Arcayürek’s voice rising to encompass fear, anger, and defiance, although never to the neglect of more ‘purely’ musical values. That such moonlit drama could shade into reminiscences of Beethoven’s moonlight in An den Mond spoke well not only of that particular performance but of the thought that had gone behind its placement. Winds and mists brought the first half to a Romantic close, vocal tone and mood their agent, yet precision too. It takes art to evoke rather than fall into the imprecise.
Der Einsame brought piano onomatopoeia (the crickets at night) from Lepper and an apt lightness of approach from Arcayürek, making me think he would be a dab hand at first-rate operetta: Offenbach, or occasional Johann Strauss. There was nothing tedious to the performance of a song which, in the wrong hands, can sometimes become just that. Pristine neoclassicism and a little second-stanza naughtiness enlivened Die Laute and its solitary lamp: a different yet related vision of night-time. Likewise Sehnsucht: another well-judged change of mood. A well shaped account of another Goethe song, Schäfers Klagelied offered typically Schubertian smiling through tears, as well as the vivid drama of actual (and metaphorical?) storm. One began to appreciate the sadness that had underlay even the earliest songs in the programme, in part retrospectively.
It may sound obvious, but to perform the Romanze from Rosauunde as, well, a romance, offered the key to its success, especially as relief after a darkly romantic indictment of ‘love’ in Die Liebe hat gelogen. Again, the clue proved to be in the title for Wer sich der Einsamkeit ergibt, Schubert extending, as perhaps only music can, Goethe’s conception of loneliness. Particularity of mood characterised both of the following Goethe songs too; so did able voice-leading: in piano, tenor, and both. The quiet dignity of Schwanengesang – the 1822 song, not the song-cycle! – and its unforced Unheimlichkeit brought genuine, not contrived silence at the close. Which returns us to sincerity: an ideal for us as listeners too?
Schubert: Frühlingsglaube , D 686; Lied eines Schiffers an die Dioskuren, D 360;Rastlose Liebe, D 138a; Abendstern, D 806; Der Jüngling and der Quelle, D 300; Am Flusse, D 766; Der Jüngling auf dem Hügel, D 702;Der Schiffer, D 536; Der Doppelgänger, D 957;An den Mond, D 193; Über Wildemann, D 884;Nachtstück, D 672; Der Einsame, D 800;An die Laute, D 905; Der Musensohn, D 764;Sehnsucht, D 879; Schäfers Klagelied, D 121;Die Liebe hat gelogen, D 751;Romanze aus ‘Rosamunde’, D 797/3b;Wer sich der Einsamkeit ergibt, D 478b;Wer nie sein Brot mit Tränen ass, D 480c;An die Türen will ich schleichen, D 479b; Schwanengesang, D 744. Ilker Arcayürek (tenor), Simon Lepper (piano). Wigmore Hall, London, Sunday 28 January 2018.