In many ways the singer of art songs faces a challenge unlike that of any other performer. For ideally he must open a window into not only the composer's soul (and by extension the poet's) but his own as well. And he must do so without recourse to the histrionics of the opera house - i.e., the scenery-chewing that goes on there would never pass muster on a Liederabend.
Friday at the Museum of Fine Arts baritone Udo Reinemann opened that window in songs of Beethoven, Schubert, Schumann and Strauss. The occasion was an evening of German Lieder presented by the Chamber Music Society of Salt Lake City - a bit different from a string trio, but for the most part even more intimate. Which again in Lieder singing is pretty much the name of the game.The voice itself is pleasing in timbre, despite a hint of wobble. It also tends to sound a bit hollow, but most of the time that was turned to the singer's advantage, except when the tone thinned out on top.
What told nearly everywhere, however, was the sensitivity of the singing, whether in the shaping of words and phrases or the careful scaling of dynamics, particularly in the major work on the program, Schumann's "Dichterliebe" ("Poet's Love"), which itself goes from the lightheartedness of young love to the disillusionment of rejection. (Do German art songs ever go any other way?)
Here Reinemann drew the listener into the world of the Heine poems on which the cycle is based, maintaining both logic and emotional continuity as the 16 songs flowed one into another. Even at the superquick tempo adopted for the third song, "Die Rose, die Lillie," the singer never stumbled. And the artful way he varied both the weight and color of his voice for the later songs likewise compelled admiration.
For my taste "Ich grolle nicht" verged a little on the lachrymose. Nor does "Ich hab' in Traum geweinet" seem to me quite as full of self-pity as was the case here. But the juxtaposition of light and darkness in evoking the solemnity of the Cologne Cathedral could hardly have been bettered. Ditto the outward exuberance vs. the inward bitterness of "Ein Juengling liebt ein Maedchen" and the Hotter-like underlinings of "Aus alten Maerchen winkt es" before it gives way to the dejection of "Die alten, boesen Lieder," in which the same myths are consigned to the grave.
Beethoven's songs, by contrast, never plumb the same depths (that was left for the late quartets and piano sonatas) and similarly in the singing one sometimes wished things were in sharper focus, whether in the the ecstacy of the "Maigesang," with which the evening began, or the poetic flights of `Adelaide."
By the same token Strauss' "Ich schwebe" ("I float") needed to soar a bit more, but happily things improved for "Freundliche vision," in which the writing carried the voice, and "Wie sollten wir geheim sie halten," with its impetuous ardor.
Best of all, perhaps, was the group of Schubert songs, four of them from the "Schwanengesang." As elsewhere, pianist Kimberly Schmidt seemed more comfortable with rushing streams and wafting breezes (e.g., his disappointingly prosaic accompaniment in "Staendchen," the famous "Serenade"). But the singer invariably went for the romantic heart of these songs, from the controlled sentiment of "Nacht und Traeume" to the lurking anxiety of "Fruelingssehnsucht." And both made a fine thing of "Abschied" ("Farewell"), with its repeated cries of "Ade," imparting to both the text and the equestrian underpinning a sense of lift and forward motion.