In its 25 years of life, the Lied Cycle has amply demonstrated the tendency of singers and pianists to return again and again on the same songs, despite having the fortune to be able to choose from a repertoire that has, literally, hundreds of masterpieces. Nothing new, on the other hand, if we compare it with what happens day after day with other interpreters in other areas. In his first solo recital at the Teatro de la Zarzuela (he had only sung two years ago as part of a male vocal quartet, along with Markus Schäfer, Christian Elsner and Michael Volle), Franz-Josef Selig has performed fourteen songs, of which that eight, however, had never sounded on this stage in the last quarter of a century. Incredible but true.
From the outset, the German bassist and his pianist, Gerold Huber, dedicated the entire first part to Carl Loewe, born just two months before Franz Schubert, but died more than forty years later. Endowed with a beautiful baritone voice that climbed easily to the high notes, he was also a famous interpreter of his own songs and showed a natural fondness for putting music to those long narrative ballads, very much in vogue in the 19th century. starred by parricides, spirits, fairies, legendary heroes, uxoricides or dead that come back to life. Loewe was not afraid of comparisons and his op. 1, for example, includes a song composed from Erlkönig, the famous ballad of Goethe, that a teenager Schubert seemed to have already seen for sentence.
Lieder by Carl Loewe, Hugo Wolf and Rudi Stephan. Franz-Josef Selig (bass) and Gerold Huber (piano). Teatro de la Zarzuela, November 12.
Selig is a splendid narrator, as he demonstrated in his incarnation of Gurnemanz in the last Parsifal represented at the Teatro Real, and here he gave an account of the various stories chosen by Loewe, often impregnated with Gothicism and signed by illustrious writers such as Herder and Fontane (besides Goethe himself), with a very high school diction and a total absence of artifice. The poems lend themselves to being cast with a certain theatricality, but Selig renounced it and offered them as an objective and impartial narrator. And it is precisely here where you could put some glue, because some stories invite you to raise them, at least, with an increasing expressive gradation, since the last verse usually brings with it as a climax the death of one of its protagonists. Selig, of good-natured aspect, preferred to be almost impassive and oblivious to all truculence, while there was no detail of Loewe's classic writing, often syllabic, that did not have its perfect vocal translation. It's incredible that Der Pilgrim vor St. Just, a small masterpiece starring a spectral Carlos V at the gates of the monastery of Yuste, and one of the four historical ballads that Loewe wrote about our king, with that fatalistic and incessant peal of bells in the left hand of the piano, I would have never interpreted in this cycle. Gerold Huber provided the perfect counterpoint from the piano at all times, carefully tracing each stroke of the occasional sound paintings devised by Loewe, with only a small black dot, or dark gray: the trills of the final section of Die Nächtliche Heerschau, almost always inaccurate and audible.
Nothing has to do with the always orderly and effective music of Loewe with the fleeting and unexpected inspiration that gave birth in spurts (in days and hours accurately noted in his manuscript by the composer) the songs of Hugo Wolf. Selig and Huber devoted almost all the second part of his recital, and only in the first of the three songs of the harpist (from the Wilhelm Meister of Goethe) the German singer provided the only hesitant tuning passages of the entire recital. It was extraordinary to be able to hear Abendbilder, three young Wolf songs very rarely performed and overflowing with poetic encouragement, composed on many other poems by Nikolaus Lenau. But the moment and of greater intensity, poetic and philosophical, arrived from the hand of a song of full maturity (the dates that appear in the program of hand of both and are clearly erroneous), again from a poem by Goethe , Grenzen der Menschheit ("The limits of the human", translates with his usual skill and talent Isabel García Adánez), in which Wolf did not shake his hand when returning on verses that Schubert had already immortalized decades ago. If Selig's interpretation was extraordinary (and this music seems almost to be loudly begging for a noble and profound voice as one might imagine that of a god), Huber's piano performance was not the least, since the contrast between the two is absolutely essential here. extensive piano prologue and the no less substantial epilogue, another long succession of chords whose harmonic approach seems to face the thesis defended by the poem, according to which we are all part of the "infinite chain of existence", with our individuality inexorably absorbed for the universe. Wolf, the fierce individualist, dares to deny it, his solo piano soloist proves it and Gerold Huber defended the cause of the composer with total conviction (and emotion).
If novelty was the choice of certain songs, unusual was the presence in the program of Rudi Stephan, a German composer who died in combat at age 28 in the First World War, concluded with an armistice whose centennial we have just commemorated. Both interpreters must feel a special appreciation for these two "serious songs" of Stephan published for the first time in 1920, because the interpretation of both was extraordinary, perhaps even the best of the recital. A sharp Mi on "Tode"(Death) in the first, Am Abend, and a serious B flat on "Grab"(Grave) in the second, Memento vivere, mark the climax of one and another, while somehow refer to the expressive world of the ballads of Loewe heard in the first part, although here in a very different and much more concentrated poetic environment.
Franz-Josef Selig had given us incessant operatic joys, both in German papers (Sarastro, Rocco, Daland, Fasolt, King Marke, Hunding or Gurnemanz) as French (Arkel). Now we also know that he is a great liederist, humble and without a single remnant of divism, with a ductile bass voice that offers his best version in the serious register, with warm and resonant notes, deeply human and unfailingly musical. De Huber – another musician who radiates bonhomie – we already knew that he is one of the best singers accompanying the piano thanks to his frequent visits to this same cycle with his compatriot Christian Gerhaher, the last one in the inaugural concert of this season only two months ago. In the same line of modesty, and despite the insistent applause, both offered only one song out of the program, Frage nicht, another youthful creation of Hugo Wolf whose last verse talked about death again, but without the truculences so dear to Carl Loewe. In this case, Nikolaus Lenau speaks of another sadly habitual ending: the death of love.