Less than 24 hours after bass-baritone Thomas Quasthoff (along with pianist Hélène Grimaud) enthralled the audience with a program of Schumann and Brahms, baritone Tobias Berndt accompanied by Alexander Fleischer took over the stage at Lukaskirche to begin their Lucerne experience.
Much of the challenging program of songs from Arnold Schönberg and Franz Schubert was performed with distinction and sensitivity, demonstrating an equally fine sense of musicality and drama. As both men gain more concert time in the larger centres, and learn to put greater trust in themselves and their art, their possibilities are exciting indeed.
Quibbles first; kudos abound.
Both performers are able to unleash power at will (Berndt convincingly poured his considerable resources into “Schenk mir deinen goldenen Kamm” (“Present me with your golden comb”) making it an early triumph; Fleischer went to the bottom of the notes subliminally in “Geheimes” (“Secret”) and more overtly one song later (“Erster Verlust”—“First Loss”). The flip side of the seismic scale will, no doubt—there were hints of its development everywhere—improve in time.
In many ways a truly, introspective tone requires more air underneath it than a full-cry fortissimo. “Dass sie hier gewesen” (“That she was here”) will positively radiate when Berndt unlocks the magic of less (result) is more (projecting to the back pews with unyielding support); the magical changes of register in “Des Fischers Liebesglück” (“The Fisher’s Joy in Love”) will also up their perfect landing average.
For Fleischer, a task on his to-do list should be to find a way of giving Schubert’s bass lines the same weight and harmonic direction which he beautifully renders in louder passages, the same finesse in the quieter ones. As well, becoming extra-secure in the fiendishly busy accompaniments (“Versunken”—“Rapt Absorption”; “Der Musensohn”—“The Son of the Muses”) would more let the art provide the excitement than the threat of falling off the narrow-gauge rails in those numbers of perpetual motion.
That said, when this duo is “on,” it’s a pleasure to be in the room.
Little wonder the sun came out during “Erster Verlust” (“First Loss”).The warmth of the lines and clarity of purpose made this collaboration one of the recital’s many highlights. Berndt’s superb middle register magnificently filled the hall in the opening of “Dank” (“Gratitude”) and its growing intensity (notably at “kam es ja!”—“There was indeed!”) was riveting.
Fleischer created a wonderfully intimate dream atmosphere in “Traumleben” (“Dream Life”) and released the final appoggiatura in “Ganymed” (“Ganymede”) in a manner that would make Alfred Brendel smile in approval.
An encore from each of the featured composers delighted the crowd and left everyone satisfied—already anticipating the next appearance by these up-and-coming artists. “Dank” to you both. JWR