What writer or musician has never had the secret desire to kick a critic? Eduard Mörike could not resist that longing and turned it into the motive of one of his funniest poems, Abschied, published within Gedichte (1838). Fifty years later, Hugo Wolf elevated those verses to a kind of miniature opera with which he culminates his masterly Mörike-Lieder for voice and piano. The critic appears furtively in the artist's house, in what could be the prelude: "I have the honor of being your critic", he says while the piano represents his knuckles at the door. Once inside, he blurts out, with pomposity, and in what could be the first act, which has a "cosmic size" nose. The artist listens grudgingly, while the piano expresses his growing indifference in the second act. But the end of the final act arrives and, after accompanying him to the door, he releases a "kick" that makes him rush down the stairs, something that brilliantly illustrates the keyboard. Wolf finishes his Lied Intoning, with sarcasm and at the rate of Viennese waltz, the three final verses of the poem: "I have never seen anything like it, / never in all the days of my life / have I seen a man go down the stairs so quickly!".
The work concludes with a postlude, where the British pianist of Japanese origin Mitsuko Uchida (Tokyo, 1948) "pumped" masterfully, as the score marks, that Viennese waltz. This mini-opera, a little more than three minutes, was the best part of the first part of her recital with the Czech mezzo-soprano Magdalena Kožená (Brno, 1973), last Tuesday at the historic venue of the Philharmonic Society of Bilbao. A concert that, after almost fifty minutes of wonderful music, did not finish taking off. It was the beginning of a small tour that will conclude, next Sunday, at the Rudolfinum in Prague, after passing, this Thursday, the Palau de la Música Catalana. Kožená and Uchida have recovered for their reunion a magnificent program, which they already did together four years ago, with Lieder de Schumann, Wolf, Dvořák and Schönberg, but in Bilbao it worked from less to more. They opened with the last Schumann cycle, Gedichte der Königin Maria Stuart (Poems of the queen Maria Estuardo), where Kožená showed the lyrical virtues of its song, but also its dynamic limitations and the inconsistency of its tessitura, with tense acute and serious discolored. Uchida maintained an austere background, although it propitiated the best musical moments of the cycle, which we heard in Abschied von der Welt, a farewell to the world where the German composer seems to evoke the Elizabethan musical simplicity.
The selection of eleven Mörike-Lieder showed, even more clearly, the musical distance between the singer and the pianist. Uchida again created potential environments from the piano, which Kožená tried to achieve with dedication, but without success. A good example was Das verlassene Mägdlein, with that cold and naked light that Uchida drew in the first bars, and that Kožená did not know how to use to give life to the suffering of that abandoned maiden. The Lieders worked much better in a humorous tone, like the charm and self-confidence that we hear in Elfenlied, but not the most intense, like Wo find 'ich Trost. The mezzo found neither the vocal subtlety nor the musical depth necessary to express that affliction that Wolf evokes, citing the Parsifal, of Wagner, and that surely wrote for Ferdinand Jäger, the tenor that released the homonymous character of the opera.
The second part changed ostensibly. To begin with, for the interest of listening to the eight Písně milostné (Love songs), from Dvořák, with his original prosody in Czech. Finally, the Kožená song flowed ideally, as we heard in the beautiful V tak mnohém srdci mrtvo jest, with that paradise evoked almost at the end on the tremolo of the piano. And even the tension of his treble was compensated with more musicality, something evident in the final song, Ó duše drahá jedinká. But the best of the program came with the wide selection of Brettl-Lieder that Schönberg wrote, in 1901, for Ernst von Wolzogen's cabaret in Berlin. Kožená found, suddenly, all the musical and theatrical flexibility. But, in addition, Uchida, who is a sensational interpreter of Schönberg, knew how to extract from the piano all the winks of modernity, as in that fascinating characterization with crossed rhythms of a king who wants to walk like someone anonymous, in Einfältiges Lied. And the promotion of the recital was confirmed with another fun waltz to finish, Arie ausdem Spiegel von Arcadien, based on a fragment by Emanuel Schikaneder, the librettist of The magic Flute, from Mozart.
The best of the night was missing, which came in the tip. Kožená announced Lavečka, by Janáček, included in his compilation of popular Moravian songs. A simple and estrófica piece that allowed the mezzo not only to evoke its native region, but also to make much more music than in the whole evening. At the end of the concert, we descended with great care through the steep stairs of the Bilbao Philharmonic. You never know.