Wednesday, November 6, 2013

REVIEW: Schubert Song Cycles with Christoph and Stephan Genz

City Hall Concert Hall, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday October 2 to 5

  • October 2: Die Schöne Müllerin, D.795 - Christoph Genz (ten), Cornelia Herrmann (pf)
  • October 3: Winterreise, D.911 - Stephan Genz (bar), Cornelia Herrmann (pf)
  • October 4: Schwanengesang, D.957 & Drei Klavierstücke, D.946 - Christoph Genz (ten), Stephan Genz (bar), Cornelia Herrmann (pf)
Three nights of Schubert songs sound like a gift from heaven; but in reality, it was a pain in the ass.

I rejoiced at the news of hearing these beautiful songs live for three consecutive nights, but now that I have gone through it, I am not sure I would ever do it again. All the angst, anxiety, anger, anguish, apprehension, agony and antagonism in these very well-crafted songs wore me down. Needless to say, I have never ever tried listening to the recording of these cycles for three consecutive days. In fact, I can only counts a few times that I actually actively listen to a whole cycle in one go.

With very little promotion, all three nights were poorly attended; and I am not surprised. I only knew these recitals because of a friend in Thailand happened to chance upon it. My best estimation will be that the concert hall was only 25% full.

In Die Schöne Müllerin, it took a while for Christoph Genz to warm up but it did get much better after a while. However, Christoph’s tenor voice sounded a bit pinched in that evening and in some passages, I am afraid that there were some doubtful notes. In general, Christoph croon and slither his way through this cycle that’s started with cheerful optimism and slowly degenerated to despair and tragedy.

Winterreise is one of my favorite song cycles. Compared to Die Schöne Müllerin, it is the more mature and influential work. The wealth of intellect and interpretive power required to deliver the songs effectively individually and as a whole continues to amaze me. Stephan Genz delivered a beautiful performance. While there is a touch of stifled sound to his voice, like somebody who is coming down with a cold, he explored and maneuvered this allegorical journey of heart with great care and skill, making this my favorite night of the three.

The third night has a more relaxed intensity compared to the previous nights due to the program. It also had better attendance given that it was the final night and also it was on a Friday. Christoph improved a bit, but still tend to croon his way through his songs and Stephan didn’t deviate from his standard of the previous night. A nice addition is to hear Cornelia Herrmann in her full strength with the Drei Klavierstücke.

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At November 21, 2013 at 4:30 PM , Blogger AMY said...

Dear reviewer,

After reading your 'review', I am utterly confirmed in my view of the sub-par musical appreciation level of HK classical music listeners.
Get some basics straight -
1. To perform 4 consecutive nights in a row is some thing unprecedented to any singer, and two consecutive nights is already nightmarish, let alone singing entire Song Cycles that last over one and a quarter hours. It is worst than singing a night of a full opera. It takes super-human stamina, artistry and will-power to stand up before an audience such as you - yes, I noted that both Christoph and Stephan caught the 'HK flu' during that week. Such got into their performances, for sure.
2. You claimed 'angst, despair, sorrow' in the Song Cycles would never wear you out had you been in proper physical and emotional health. I attended the three Schubert programmes and wished that I had attended the first evening of Bach and Mahler AS WELL.
3. Christoph Genz is a specialist baroque tenor - high tenor. The Schubert lieders are a tad too low for his range, but he handled them competently. His brother Stephan, however, is a big name in German lieder. The two brothers held different vocal specialties, and they should have been presented in their best respective lights in the first concert in Bach and Mahler.
4. The less than lukewarm receptions of their lieder performances by the ignorant HK public (much worst than their neighbouring Asia areas, including the PRC) had its ripple effect - Matthias Goerne's unhappy outing with HKPO on the 18th October (barely two weeks after the Genz brothers), and Christian Gerhaher's pulling out of HKPO's War Requiem shortly afterwards, all demonstrated that HK audience's lack of proper appreciative ability of German lieder has had its toll.
To surmise, I don't think top German lied singers will grace HK's concert halls again in the near future.
By the way, if you do not know already, Stephan Genz, Matthias Goerne and Christian Gerhaher are the current TOP THREE German lieder interpretors.


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