Songs of Love, Life and Death: Matthias Goerne sings Berg, Schumann, Shostakovich & Brahms

Goerne and Trifonov offer a disc that takes a while to recover from, such is its intensity

Songs of Love, Life and Death: Matthias Goerne sings Berg, Schumann, Shostakovich & Brahms

The last of a planned three Lieder discs for DG by Mathias Goerne, each with a different pianist, this remarkable offering finds the great singer joined by Daniil Trifonov, a pianist known for his virtuosity. Here is a very different side, though; together, Goerne and Trifonov create miracles.

Matthias Gorne, photo © Caroline de Bon

Goerne and Trifonov find huge beauty in Alban Berg‘s early Op. 2, a set of four songs that hovers between tonality and atonality. There is huge beauty here, particularly perhaps in the third. But I want to quote the fourth and final song, not only because of its beautiful evocation of a “Nachtigall” (Nightingale) in the piano, but for how the first song of Schumann’s Dicterliebe seems to grow naturally out of it (remember the advanced harmonies of Schumann’s melody-driven opening exude an analagous mystery. Let‘s hear them side-by-side:

The imagination exhibited between Goerne and Trifonov is remarkable. How we hear the modernity (and emotive weight) of “Im Rhein, im heiligen Strome”:

We hear something similar in “Hör ich das Liedchen klingen,” the tenth song; Schumann seems to be striving for something beyond the senses, his harmonies hanging in the air:

I for one cannot think of a more desolate, and effective, performance of “Ich hab’ in Traum geweinet”; how the silences speak here. Again Goerne and Trifonov set out to show us how daring Schumann can be, and how we never really know this music. There are always further profundities to reveal:

Goerne and Trifonov’s Dichterliebe is a noble but often nightarish experience, as it of course should be. This brings to mind Gary Hickling’s internet labour of love, a full biography of Lotte Lehmann complete with video and sound samples; and in turn Lehmann”s own miraculous Dichterliebe interpretations. Try this one: with Bruno Wanter on piano, August 1941 in Los Angeles (those books are free on Apple Books):

Less well-known are the three Michelangelo-Lieder of Hugo Wolf. Only three survive, although it is possible he was planning a cycle in the manner of Möricke-Lieder and Eichendorff-Lieder. It is nicely linked to Shostakovich here, excerpts from that composer’s Suite on Verses of Michelangelo Buonarroti, Op. 145 (songs Nos. 6, 10 and 9 in that order). Only Wolf, surely, could have written this declamatory wonder, and how Goerne loves it (not to mention Trifonov’s wonderful fanfare figures towards the end): - “Wohl dank ich oft an mein vergangnes Leben”:

Wolf’s world is utterly unique, sometimes frighteningly dark (as in the second song, “Alles endet, was entstehet”); but let’s relish Goerne’s way with the long melodic line that opens the final song, “Fühlt meine Seele das ersehnte Licht”:

This time, what a change to the Shostakovich, delivered like flint. The three songs are “Dante,” “Death,” and “Night”. The blackness of “Dante” makes one wonder what “Death” will be like:

Hearing how Trifonov varied his approach in these songs is itself a masterclass; the postlude to the “Death” is stunning:

.. before the untterably deep silence fo the final “Night”.

Finally, Brahms’ late Vier ernste Gesänge (Four Serious Songs), Op. 121, two settings from Ecclesiastes, one from Sirach and one from Corinthians (from the Christian Bible). Goerne and Trifonov are dramatic:

The expressivity of the second song is remarkable, but just listen to the weight of the third, “O Tod, wir bitter bist du”:

Goerne and Trifonov offer potentially the finest modern reading of the Brahms. But even they cannot topple the great Hans Hotter and Gerald Moore in 1951:

That said, Goerne and Trifonov offer a disc that takes a while to recover from, such is its intensity. A reminder that great music can affect us to the very core of our souls.

Goerne Trifonov Lieder