This Armory program was born out of his desire to combine two song cycles, Beethoven’s âAn die ferne Geliebteâ and Berg’s âAltenberg Liederâ – which, as he writes in the program notes, âaddress ways to deal with unfulfilled wishes, unfulfilled dreams. To put these cycles in context, he performed selected songs by Schumann and Schubert that also struggle with loss and pain and offer coping mechanisms – including, as Appleby put it, “numb nihilism.” .
Both cycles have been historically significant. Beethoven’s six-song set from 1816 provided a model for the 19th century German song cycle. The poems, by Alois Jeitteles, present a protagonist thinking of his lost house, his distant beloved, his unfulfilled love. The songs follow one another, giving the cycle the sense of a unified, albeit episodic, narrative. Appleby sang the tender songs with warmth and heartache, and brought an almost eerie vitality to the moments of intoxicating nostalgia. Hanick, a brilliant pianist most often heard in thorny contemporary scores, played with clarity, nuance and grace.
Berg’s 1912 work, which features five short texts by German writer Peter Altenberg, was originally written for mezzo-soprano and lush orchestra. The public reaction when two of the songs were performed at a concert in Vienna was so hostile that their aggrieved composer never performed them again. But the work paved the way for a new musical language of the twentieth century. Appleby and Hanick performed a version with a piano reduction that allowed the tenor – with a relatively lighter lyrical voice – to bring out subtleties in the vocal lines. And Hanick’s playing was a revelation of clarity and bite.
There were beautiful accounts of all the works of Schubert and Schumann. I was especially happy to hear these artists draw attention to little-heard songs from Schumann’s later years, such as the dreamy âAn den Mondâ, which opened the wonderful program, and the autumnal and harmonically âAbendliedâ. tangy that finished it.
Paul Appleby and Conor Hanick
Repeats Wednesday at Park Avenue Armory, Manhattan; armoryonpark.com.