Georg Nigl - Vanitas - Beethoven, Schubert & Rihm - The Guardian
Nigl’s controlled, supple voice is aided by Pashchenko’s fierce accompaniment in a thoughtful selection
The Austrian baritone Georg Nigl’s disc with pianist Olga Pashchenko mostly replicates a recital the pair gave at the Berlin festival in September last year. Their performance included the premiere of Wolfgang Rihm’s Vermischter Traum, settings of the German baroque poet and dramatist Andreas Gryphius, which are dedicated to Nigl. The sequence is framed by groups of Schubert songs – a mix of familiar numbers such as Die Forelle, An die Musik and Wandrers Nachtlied, with less well-known late songs – and precedes Rihm’s cycle with Beethoven’s An die ferne Geliebte.
The Gryphius songs were the first work Rihm completed while recovering from a serious illness that had brought a temporary halt to the flood of music he had produced over the previous five decades. Extracts from three sonnets provide the material for the seven songs; the mostly short texts dwell upon the transience of life, though they don’t include anything from Gryphius’s most famous poem, All Is Vanity, which provides the title for the disc. Rihm’s sinuous settings seem close to the world of early Schoenberg or Berg, constantly flirting with tonality as the piano provides a densely chromatic backdrop, and sometimes rising to fierce, angry climaxes.
Nigl’s performance is beautifully controlled, suave almost; his soft-grained voice wraps itself easily around Rihm’s smoothly contoured vocal lines. Pashchenko plays a modern Steinway for Vermischter Traum, but opts for a fortepiano, a modern copy of an 1819 Graf instrument, for Schubert and Beethoven. There’s an easy familiarity about their Schubert performances, an almost private intimacy in which nothing is overstated, but the Beethoven cycle never quite catches fire; some distinctly slow tempi, especially in the first song, don’t help. As a whole, though, it’s a thoughtful, rewarding collection.