Wednesday, 17 August 2022

Award-winners get Schumann Project off to a pounding start

NOW in its 15th year, the Oxford Lieder Festival is recognised as being one of the most

NOW in its 15th year, the Oxford Lieder Festival is recognised as being one of the most prestigious song festivals in Europe, writes Maureen Idowu.

It attracts some of the most sought-after world-class artists, as well as giving a platform to the new generation of younger talents.

For two weeks in October the city is immersed in an array of song recitals and chamber concerts, with almost 100 events taking place in all corners — chapels and college halls, the recently restored Ashmolean Museum, the Bodleian Library, Sheldonian Theatre and Europe’s oldest concert hall, the Holywell Music Room.

This year the festival’s Schumann Project ambitiously presents the complete songs of Robert Schumann, alongside the songs of his wife Clara Schumann and chamber music by composers Schubert and Mendelssohn, both strong musical influences on Schumann, and by Brahms and Liszt who were influenced by him in turn. Some of Schumann’s most significant chamber and piano works are also scheduled.

In all, the festival is a rare opportunity to enjoy a feast of rich and varied musical offerings, each just a few minutes’ walk from the others.

The opening night concert took place on Friday at the Sheldonian Theatre and featured the spectacular renowned duo, singer Christian Gerhaher and pianist Gerold Huber.

These two artists, both former students of Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, have been performing for many years together, setting new standards in Lied interpretations and receiving awards from Gramophone magazine, BBC Music Magazine and the Royal Philharmonic Society among others.

Complemented by the excellent natural acoustics of the Sheldonian, the audience were witness to a wonderful programme of music by this most Romantic and expressive composer.

Sholto Kynoch — pianist, festival founder and artistic director — gave a warm welcome to the packed hall.

To open the concert we heard Dvorak’s set of 10 Biblical Songs Op 99, composed in 1894, some 38 years after Schumann’s death.

These religious settings, sung in the original Czech, were delivered in psalm-like broad phrases and with the same solemn and dramatic shades heard later on in parts of the next collection, Schumann’s Sechs Gedichte und Requiem.

In this group, beginning with the Blacksmith’s Song, a simple melody with an almost child-like refrain after each verse, we began to explore Schumann’s musical mind, with its alternation of the light and shade, joy and sadness within him.

Alongside the elements of folk song, Gerhaher sang phrases of great beauty and tenderness, such as in The Rose and Meeting and Parting, whilst the loneliness of Solitude and the gloominess of The Oppressive Evening provided a sombre contrast.

After the interval there were further groups of songs in which we experienced the perfect interplay of voice and piano, Gerhaher and Huber each complementing the other yet totally at one.

In Final Tears we heard the full scope of Gerhaher’s magnificent voice, rising up dramatically and singing out full force with Huber matching him all the way with pounding chords.

Schumann’s extensive piano postludes, so important to him as a way of extending the songs’ moods, were played superbly by Huber; each phrase stretched and shaped before leading into the next and drawing the sweetest tones possible from the piano.

With the festival running until Saturday, October 29, there is plenty more music to enjoy. For programme and ticketing information, visit or call 01865 591276.

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