Lovesick music for a wet Tuesday night
Tuesday night was not an enticing night weather-wise to drive across Sydney to hear songs composed by an apparently lovesick and generally depressed German. But a small but enthusiastic bunch of hardy souls showed up at the Hunter Baillie Memorial Presbyterian church in Annandale and were treated to some wonderful singing of Schumann lieder by baritone Alex Knight. The church, gothic in style, is spacious and has an excellent acoustic. Given the ease of parking, it’s a fine place for ensembles and performances.
Schumann for piano and voice
Chris Cartner opened the evening program with a Schumann piece, and this was followed with Alex Knight singing three Schumann songs that were not part of the song cycle. I cannot provide the titles to what we heard because unfortunately there was no program, a serious omission in my view. Even though their intention to project the words onto the wall to one side of the performers was stymied by the technology gremlins, this would not have been particularly helpful as it would require unobstructed views to one side of the audience.
Schumann’s beloved song cycle Dichterliebe, published in the 1840s, was the focus of the evening. Alex Knight, sensitively and stylishly accompanied by Christopher Cartner on piano, presented the 16 songs which Schumann had based on a selection from 65 poems written by Heine in the early 1820s. The subject matter is generally gloomy – unrequited love, bad dreams, death and grief, despite the many references to flowers, trees with twittering birds, and flute and fiddlers at a wedding. The last song in the cycle brings it all together – the poet has decided to dump his bad dreams, his sorrows, his suffering and misery into one big coffin which will take 12 giants to toss into the Rhine.
Schumann actually wrote this song cycle for a famous soprano of his time, but it is more often associated now with the male voice, and Knight’s lush baritone is a superb instrument to show off the 16 songs. His German was well articulated and appeared to pose no problems. He is an expressive singer with great resonance in his lower voice. He also exhibits a great deal of emotional intensity – there was light and dark in his voice throughout, as he sang of flowers and birds on the one hand, and despair and suffering on the other. I liked the way he made eye contact with individuals in the audience, as if singing directly to each of us.
For the handful who attended, a very satisfying performance of much-loved Schumann repertoire by a promising young Sydney singer. A glass of wine and the chance to chat with performers in the church hall was an added bonus!