Sub pianist Barto rises to challenge in Goerne recital at Ravinia 

Fri Jul 23, 2010 at 11:51 am

By Paul Wooley

Matthias Goerne

Tendinitis forced Christoph Eschenbach out of Thursday night’s Schumann and Brahms liederabend with Matthias Goerne.  The pair’s song recitals have become a staple of Ravinia’s seasons in the past few years, giving Eschenbach’s replacement and good friend Tzimon Barto (himself a Ravinia regular) much to live up to by stepping in for the former music director of the festival.  He rose to the challenge impressively.

The German baritone warmed up the Martin Theatre audience with three Schumann selections, Abends am Strand, Es leuchtet meine Liebe, and Mein Wagen rollet langsam. The last gave the audience a taste of the marvelous legato Goerne would show in the Schumann selections, without the heft that would later cause him problems.  Barto played comfortably, but the answers to any questions about his capabilities as an accompanist didn’t come until the first few songs of Liederkreis.

Tzimon Barto

While few would expect the score to challenge the pianist technically, it was an open question whether Barto would be able to connect with Goerne as closely as Eschenbach.  Barto responded coolly, playing with as much deference and sensitivity as any seasoned accompanist.  He followed Goerne and moved with him, the two feeding off of each other the entire night as if they had been a collaborating duo for years.

Ich wandelte unter den Bäumen showed the pair at their best, with Goerne singing and Barto playing lyrically and anticipating each line with sensitivity while never overpowering the other.  The dramatic score of Liederkreis matched perfectly with the heavier, darker sound that has developed in Goerne’s voice over the last few years.  The German singer was in total control of his instrument during the first half of the evening, pushing it to fortissimo and reining it back in deftly.  Schumann fits his voice like a glove.

The switch to Brahms after intermission made things a bit shakier.  Goerne began with one of the composer’s lesser-known song collections, Lieder und Gesänge. While the denser piano score gave Barto no trouble, the ease with which Goerne had sung the dramatic sections of Liederkreis started to fail him, as his top became thin and stretched in Ich schleich umher and Wehe, so willst du mich wieder.

Goerne reached into his reserves for the final song of the cycle, Wie bist du, meine Königin, a strophic, lyrical serenade based on a Hafez poem.  Without the heavy demands, Goerne sang freely into his higher range without strain, mesmerizing the Martin with his best performance of the night.

Would that the recital had ended on that note.  The last cycle, Brahms’ Vier ernste Gesänge, four songs based on Biblical texts, pushed Goerne over the edge.  He resorted to shouting and clipping off notes, robbing the songs of the quality performance they merit.  Barto, however, continued his elegant playing, standing out as the most consistent of the two throughout the night. Ravinia’s audience gave both pianist and baritone an extended and warm ovation.

Posted in Performances

One Response to “Sub pianist Barto rises to challenge in Goerne recital at Ravinia 

  1. Posted Jul 23, 2010 at 1:28 pm by JR

    Ravinia needs some kind of cell phone jammer during their concerts. I counted three loud rings during the concert last night, just killed the mood.

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