BRAHMS Vier ernste Gesänge. 9 Lieder und Gesänge
A couple of years after completing his leisurely mix-and-match Schubert series for Harmonia Mundi, Matthias Goerne has made it on to Brahms. It’s music that’s very well suited to his voice: grainy and gentle and with that characteristic burnished-mahogany tone, but at its most beautiful at around mezzo forte and below – when pushed louder it can become a little woofy, and the tone remains veiled across the range.
But this is supremely seductive Lieder singing, with a natural intelligence and ease with the words, matched by playing from Christoph Eschenbach (also at the keyboard for that final Schubert instalment, a similarly beguiling Winterreise – 1/14), that coaxes and caresses the piano with loving delicacy. And listen to the opening of ‘Meerfahrt’: you can almost feel in his playing the boat’s oars digging deep into the watery depths.
But for all the beauty on show, I never get any sense of self-indulgence or narcissism – not even in performances of the Heine pair of ‘Sommerabend’ and ‘Mondenschein’ in which time seems to stand still. In the Vier ernste Gesänge, those brought up on Hans Hotter might admittedly miss the voluminousness of a true bass, especially in ‘Ich wandte mich, und sahe’, but the seraphic, weary calm that concludes ‘O Tod, wie bitter bist du’, offers ample recompense, as does the sense of quiet, heartfelt earnestness Goerne creates throughout.
The Op 32 Lieder und Gesänge have a less illustrious history on record, but Goerne’s recording must be among the finest of recent accounts: certainly he’s a better fit, for me, in terms of voice than Ian Bostridge, for all the English tenor’s artistry (Hyperion, 9/15); and I also prefer his approach to that of the rather more burly and garrulous Thomas Quasthoff (DG, 6/00). The stream of ‘Der Strom, der neben mir verrauschte’ feels a tad viscous perhaps, but Goerne’s new-found Wagnerian power helps him bring a real sense of fist-shaking resolve at the conclusion of ‘Wehe, so willst du mich wieder’ and a powerful angsty gravitas to ‘Du sprichst, dass ich mich täuschte’. It’s nevertheless the heart-stopping beauty of his – and Eschenbach’s – take on the concluding ‘Wie bist du, meine Königin’ that lingers in the memory.