by FranzSchubert and Hugo Wolf
Wolfgang Holzmair, baritone
Russell Ryan, piano
New York, Lincoln Center
For those who have lamented the death of the traditional song recital, it would havebeen enough to attend this event, part of Lincoln Center's popular Art of the Song series,to be dissuaded. After several New York appearances at the Metropolitan Museum Auditorium,Wolfgang Holzmair has finally graduated to the much larger Alice Tully Hall. Anappreciative public warmly greeted him upon entering and coaxed out several encores; butfollowing the program's instructions, all respectfully withheld their applause until theend of each half.
Although Mr. Holzmair has made repeated forays into selected operaticrepertory, notably Mozart, his gifts are best suited to lieder. His masculineinterpretational approach has an engaging quality, but when the Goethe text turns tender,it comes as a delightful surprise to hear the sweetish, most delicate sounds coming fromthe athletic frame of this tallish young man. His sincerity and direct communication withhis audience enable him to steer clear of the preciousness that many others put forth asinterpretation. Likewise, his natural technique helps him to avoid the driven quality ofan illustrious predecessor.
Franz Schubert seemed especially inspired by the romantic quality ofGoethe's rhyming verse. His tuneful settings belie the anguish in Der Fischer(D.225) when the fisherman sinks into the water to join a beckoning water nymph. Mr.Holzmair's penetrating version of the nymph's enticing description of the water was a highpoint of the program's Schubert section. For An Mignon (D.161), Holzmair gave atouching finale, full of sentiment, for the young girl's sorrowful outlook. Hisaccompanist, American ex-patriot Russell Ryan, was the perfect collaborator, supportivebut with just enough presence in these songs to make for near-ideal renditions. It wouldhave been wonderful if they could have stepped outside the norms for a bit so that Mr.Ryan could be heard alone in the restless piano part for Rastlose Liebe (D.138).
The eleven Wolf songs of the second half gave Mr. Ryan far moreopportunity to demonstrate his exemplary style and equally admirable technique in Wolf'sextended finales. Here Mr. Holzmair expanded his range of vocal colors to encompass Wolf'smore acerbic take on the texts. Where Schubert was attracted to the melancholy andself-pitying in Goethe, Wolf preferred the pensive, almost pessimistic mood of"Harfenspieler I". In a few instances Wolf set the same text as did Schubert:Mr. Holzmair sang their two versions of "Ganymede" as an instructive comparison.His falsetto ending in the Wolf setting captured the youth's abandon while soaring upward.Mr. Holzmair's high piano on the word "Gedenke!" (remembrance) in Wolf's"Wie sollt' ich heiter bleiben" was one of the most memorable moments in theconcert.
In a decidedly different and welcome alternative to standard programming,Mr. Holzmair selected a number of texts from Goethe's Westöstlicher Divan. Largelyunknown about the poet is his deep study in later years of Islam in general andspecifically of Persian mystical poetry. In the East-West Divan,
European expression is grafted onto Asian sensibility--a combination thatWolf was temperamentally better suited to exploit than Schubert, as a comparison between AnakreonsGrab" and Geheimes (D.719) proves.
While the variety of Mr. Holzmair's choice of songs for this programcannot be faulted, only in the second half with the Wolf songs did he strive for greatervolume. Lacking these moments of force, the first-half Schubert lieder with the exceptionof An die Enfernte (D.765), had far fewer contrasts. As one of Mr. Holzmair'sencores, the inevitable choice-Schubert's "Heidenröslein"--was also the mostdelectable.