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In addition to the photos there are quite a few music clips. Regards, Len
30 Years on, the World’s Greatest Song Partnership Flourishes
By David Allen
Nov. 23, 2018
MUNICH — In 1988, a young philosophy student named Christian Gerhaher got a ticket to hear a song recital at the Cuvilliés Theater in Munich. Schumann was on the program: “Dichterliebe” and “Kerner Lieder,” with the German baritone Hermann Prey and, on piano, Wolfgang Sawallisch.
A bit of a singer himself, Mr. Gerhaher was blown away. He went to talk to a pianist friend of his, Gerold Huber.
“We’ll meet for smoking and playing cards in the evening,” Mr. Gerhaher remembers saying, as they often did — “but we could do some ‘Dichterliebe,’ if you like?”
Mr. Huber wasn’t keen. A couple of weeks earlier, he had heard a recital rather less transporting, with, he recalls, a “really terrible soprano.” Mr. Gerhaher was persuasive, though, as is his way. They started work on “Dichterliebe,” and soon gave a small concert on a terrace of Mr. Gerhaher’s parents’ house. It was the first step in a journey that has defined mastery of song.
Mr. Gerhaher, a baritone, and Mr. Huber have become bywords for sensitivity, cerebral depth and seeming perfection in a lieder repertory that they have made their own. They are celebrating 30 years of performing together, and this month they released a new recording of Schumann, including “Kerner Lieder.” It’s the third album in what is planned as a complete survey of the composer’s songs.
Knowing each other for 30 years, “creates a special chemistry that you don’t always see in recitals,” said John Gilhooly, the director of Wigmore Hall in London, where the two perform frequently. “We’re all better off for that lifelong partnership.”
And theirs is — and always has been — a partnership. “We became best friends,” Mr. Gerhaher said in an interview this summer at his leafy home in Munich. “Like brothers.”
In song, promiscuity is the norm. Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, for instance, recorded Schubert’s “Winterreise” commercially with at least seven pianists, including Gerald Moore, Daniel Barenboim and Alfred Brendel, and tapes have appeared of concerts with more, not least Maurizio Pollini. Ian Bostridge has recorded Schubert with Mitsuko Uchida, Leif Ove Andsnes, Antonio Pappano, Julius Drake and Graham Johnson.
This profligacy can, of course, be profoundly productive. Matthias Goerne’s recent 12-disc Schubert survey, on Harmonia Mundi, was made all the more absorbing by the intricacies of his teamwork with seven different pianists. Mark Padmore’s Schubert with Paul Lewis is distinctive and powerful, but it takes on a more unearthly, frightening complexion with the fortepianist Kristian Bezuidenhout.
Mr. Gerhaher and Mr. Huber are different. They have performed together every year — usually 15 or 20 concerts, sometimes more. Mr. Gerhaher has “perchance” performed with other pianists, he said, but “they were all exceptions.” Mr. Huber also plays admirably for other singers, including Christiane Karg and Franz-Josef Selig, but his other recordings, even distinguished ones — including Schubert and Mahler with Gunther Groissböck — lack that last spell of magic that he casts with Mr. Gerhaher.
“We try to understand every song, by whomever, as its own entity,” Mr. Gerhaher said. “This sound of singular, particular identity, this is what I detect Gerold so often trying to find. Others don’t, or didn’t.”
Their collaboration has a permanence, an equality, a connection that seems at once telepathic and tactile. They grew up together in this repertoire; they learned it together; they continue to discover and extend it together.
“We don’t think in terms of lieder singer, or accompanist, or ‘my pianist,’” Mr. Gerhaher said. “It is vocal chamber music.”
The two men were born in 1969 in Straubing, a small medieval city on the Danube River in Bavaria, surrounded by farmland and not far from the Iron Curtain. They met when they were about 12, but their friendship took time. Mr. Gerhaher, whose school concentrated on languages, took violin lessons at Mr. Huber’s music-focused school, and then from Mr. Huber’s father. They sat next to each other in the local choir, and played in the orchestra — Mr. Gerhaher on viola, Mr. Huber on double bass. Mr. Gerhaher dated Mr. Huber’s sister.
“He was so very cool, always,” Mr. Gerhaher recalled, adding that, sloping around with long hair and a taste for cigarettes, Mr. Huber “was kind of a hippie.” (He still has the hair, and rides a Vespa.)
They moved to Munich, Mr. Huber studying piano at the conservatory, Mr. Gerhaher eventually dropping philosophy for medicine. Practicing obsessively, they worked through Schubert and Schumann, giving concerts in the town hall back home.
“I was not interested in opera at all,” Mr. Gerhaher said. “It was just lieder singing. This was why I became a singer.”
Five or six years later, they drew the attention of the powerful public radio station in Bavaria, and taped Schumann’s Opus 36 songs, “Sechs Gedichte aus dem Liederbuch eines Malers.” Mr. Gerhaher took a sabbatical, tried his hand as a vocalist, studied with the eminent Fischer-Dieskau in Berlin and decided to become a singer.
After he finished medical school, in 1998, he and Mr. Huber had their breakthrough at the Schubertiade in Austria with Schubert’s “Schwanengesang,” with which they made their first proper recording. More Schubert followed on the Arte Nova label and, in 2004, “Dichterliebe,” on RCA. It’s a recording that, in its headstrong power, still shows traces of their youthful style.
“I was putting all my experiences and my life and my private pain into this song cycle,” Mr. Gerhaher said, “which is ridiculous, but which is also the privilege of youth. It was our lives, conveyed by the music.”
Nowadays their “Dichterliebe,” which they performed eloquently at the Bavarian State Opera in July, is more objective, almost standoffish.
“The fervor was enormous 20 years ago,” Mr. Huber recalled a few days after that concert, in an interview at the National Theater. “Now it’s more the view from outside. It’s a little bit under-emotional, for me.”
Their view of the rest of their repertoire has likewise matured toward something more consciously intellectual. Compare their two recordings of Schubert’s “Die Schöne Müllerin,” separated by a decade and a half: Mr. Gerhaher’s recent approach is far more analytical — the voice more hollow, the vowels infinitely pointed, the consonants fanatically sharp. (“He is a crazy man, of course,” Mr. Huber said of his partner, able to think for “one week about one note or one ‘r.’”)
Still profoundly moving, Mr. Gerhaher now sounds as much the poet telling the story as the young man living it, an impression only heightened by his decision to give spoken renditions of the Wilhelm Müller poems that Schubert did not set.
“We try not to spoil the music which we perform by our own thoughts or feelings,” Mr. Gerhaher said. “You can identify, but in a private way. You will learn relatively quickly as a performer: Your personal life is relatively uninteresting to everybody. It’s embarrassing to impose that on other people. If you have a tour with ‘Winterreise’ or ‘Songs of a Wayfarer,’ something like that, you can’t rebuild your personal grief every day. You would have to go to the filling station to buy some weltschmerz. It is impossible.”
“Winterreise,” indeed, is “a big problem” for Mr. Gerhaher, Mr. Huber said: “Because people normally expect one who shows the last moments in this life. It gets deeper and deeper and deeper, and he hates to show himself in this situation. He wants to be a medium.”
Comfortable in the canon of Schubert, Schumann and Mahler, in the German tradition they are making an effort with Wolf, and are about to give the premiere of the second piece setting Goethe that they have received from Wolfgang Rihm. Mr. Gerhaher looks askance at Strauss for his choice of texts — Brahms, too.
“It’s not like singing songs, it’s like being an instrument, like a viola,” he said of singing Brahms, despite having produced a fine recording of “Die Schöne Magelone.” French music, especially Debussy, will play more of a role in the future, and the pair maintains an interest in Britten.
Schumann, though, remains special, more so even than Schubert. To Mr. Gerhaher, Schubert set texts “a little superficially,” with an emphasis on ease of understanding. Schumann, on the other hand, deals in complexity. Hence the projected cycle, which will culminate in a 10-disc set in 2020 (including contributions from other singers he selected) and to which Mr. Gerhaher brings the view that all of Schumann’s song collections tell a story, however random they may appear.
“The fact that the congruence of meanings of music and underlying poem is never total,” he said, “is not only something which is aroused by chance, but it is, I think, his purpose — to let them shimmer, to leave the meanings open in the end. A lied doesn’t want to be understood totally.”
Exploring those open-ended meanings has been the work of three decades — and more to come.
“We never thought about stopping, really not,” Mr. Huber said. “We believe in the results. He is very sensitive. He overthinks. But we know that we do good things.”
https://www.nytimes.com/2018/11/23/arts ... umann.html
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