Röschmann draws audience into exquisite gloom in Vocal Arts recital

Fri Feb 09, 2018 at 12:05 am

Dorothea Röschmann performed a recital for Vocal Arts DC Thursday night.

Dorothea Röschmann brought a dark-hued program of lieder by German and Austrian composers to the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater on Thursday night. It was the German soprano’s first recital in Washington since 2006, both times presented by Vocal Arts DC. She partnered with the outstanding pianist Malcolm Martineau, and included some of the striking songs of Schubert and Schumann featured on their 2014 recording Portraits.

Röschmann’s voice seems to be darkening, growing more rich and varied in color, as she enters her 50s. The most stunning set, Gustav Mahler’s Rückert-Lieder, she has not yet recorded and should. An intense grain in her tone was an asset in this music, matched beautifully to the whimsy and wit of Martineau’s playing in the first song. The opening phrase of the second, “Ich atmet’ einen linden Duft,” soared upward in a gorgeous swell of sound, and with exquisite German diction Röschmann set down the end of each phrase with ably sure footing.

The more brazen quality of her lower chest voice came to the fore in a bleak rendition of the set’s darkest song, “Um Mitternacht.” Here and elsewhere Röschmann’s top notes wavered with some uncertainty at times, and the breath support flagged in surprising ways, provoking a breath mid-word at this song’s conclusion.

At the end of the Mahler set came the entire recital’s high point, an impeccably suspended performance of “Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen.” To perform this song with just the right sense of stillness and serenity, where time seems to stop, is exceedingly difficult. Röschmann’s handling of each phrase, each word was imbued with just that sort of celestial immutability.

Wagner’s Wesendonck Lieder yielded similar, excellent results, especially in the erotically charged harmonies of “Stehe still” and “Im Treibhaus,” with their echoes of Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde, on which he was working at the same time. After some sense of constraint in Röschmann’s voice earlier in the evening, the floodgates opened in the last two of these songs, “Schmerzen” and “Träume.” Even a single encore by Franz Liszt had a German text, the short and lovely “Es muss ein Wunderbares sein.”

Less successful was the opening set of Schubert songs, including the four Mignon Lieder from Goethe’s Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre. They are almost entirely gloomy songs, and a less varied and captivating singer might have trouble holding a listener’s attention. Röschmann’s arresting way with the words, so precisely enunciated, perhaps at the cost of some distracting facial contortions, made each one different and full of character.

Where the voice turned slightly timorous at times in these songs, in a frail tone that seemed over-compressed, the excellent accompanying of Martineau came to the rescue. That was especially helpful in his particularly sensitive rubato in the introductions and postludes, especially of “Nur wer die Sehnsucht kennt.” The fluttering notes in the breathless “Dahin” sections of “Kennst du das Land” were a particular highlight from Martineau at the piano, as were the endless gradations of soft sound in the introduction to the standalone song “Nachtstück.”

Schumann’s set “Gedichte der Königin Maria Stuart” is an interesting find, rarely heard and worth discovering, especially as featured on that Portraits recording. In many ways just as stark and melancholy as the Schubert set, these songs played better to the directions Röschmann’s voice seems to be taking, with some especially chocolatey low notes in the prayer “Nach der Geburt ihres Sohnes.”

Tenor Christoph Prégardien returns to the Vocal Arts DC series 7:30 p.m. February 24 at the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater. vocalartsdc.org; 202-669-1463.

One Response to “Röschmann draws audience into exquisite gloom in Vocal Arts recital”

  1. Posted Feb 09, 2018 at 9:17 am by Alan K

    As usual your review was spot on! The Mahler was undoubtedly for me the highlight of the recital. Despite your minor quibbles on her performance of “Um Mitternacht”, I found her interpretation powerful and moving. Agreed that the Schubert set was the weakest and the least suitable to her voice. The pianist was remarkable everywhere!

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