By Marie Louise James
On Thursday, Feb. 7, 2013, mezzo-soprano Angela Kirchschlager, tenor Ian Bostridge, and pianist Julius Drake performed Hugo Wolf’s song collection Spanisches Liederbuch in Richardson Auditorium on the campus of Princeton University, and though it might seem a daunting task to present 44 songs by a progressive, fin-de-siècle composer, their concert proved a perfect combination of charm, profoundness and spirit.
Hugo Wolf began writing the Spanisches Liederbuch in October 1889 and finished it about a year later. The entire set was published in Mainz in 1891.
He found the lyrics in a collection of sixteenth and seventeenth century Spanish poems, translated into German by Emanuel Geibel and Paul Heyse. Authors of the poems include Vega, Camões, Cervantes, Ruiz, Nuñes, Del Rio, De Valdivivielso, De Almeida, De Cota, De Castellejo, Vincente, Chico, and Doceo. On the mostly anonymous verses, Wolf lavished some of his most sophisticated music, using repeated rhythmic motives, consistent accompaniment patterns, and his characteristically vivid harmony to make Spanisches Liederbuch more than the sum of its poetic parts.
The collection is divided into 10 sacred and 34 secular songs. The first 10 religious songs, mostly sung by Bostridge, were consistent in the faintly tortured mood and throbbing tempo, while the secular songs were varied, spirited, and playful. Bostridge was emotionally convincing in his melancholic and dark performance of the sacred songs, while Kirchschlager’s charisma fit the atmosphere of the secular songs perfectly.
The weltliche, or worldly, songs had a flirtatious edge, and the chemistry between Kirchschlager and Bostridge was subtle yet delightful. Although Kirchschlager and Bostridge sang separately, they managed to keep a continual romantic story and fluidity between each lied. I would have loved to hear Kirchschlager and Bostridge sing together, but, due to the pure Hugo Wolf repertoire, only one duet, Schumann’s “Lover’s Serenade,” was performed, as an encore.
Julius Drake was a consistently flawless accompanist, engaging in an eloquent conversation with each performer, and Ian Bostridge was unfaltering in his clear and masterfully controlled voice. Kirchschlager, on the other hand, seemed to tire, clearing her throat audibly during piano intervals and, unfortunately, Bostridge’s solos. Perhaps she was under the weather. She seemed aware of, and sorry for, her struggles. At one point during Mögen alle böse Zungen, Kirchschlager actually paused to laugh and say, “lots of words,” referring to the tongue-twister lyrics of the piece.
Such minor accidents aside, Bostridge and Kirchschlager’s rendition of Hugo Wolf’s Spanisches Liederbuch at Richardson Auditorium was remarkable. The next concert in the series takes place tonight, Thursday, Feb. 21, at 8 p.m. when “The English Concert” will perform an array of baroque concertos and suites, with Harry Bicket conducting.
Marie Louise James is a freshman at Princeton High School and a member of the PHS Symphonia Orchestra.