I only do, in principle, one thing a day. At my age, that’s quite enough. So, for many weeks, 15 March has been marked down for ‘Concert: Pianosalon’. Piano (Daniel Heide), our favourite accompanist (family excluded), and mezzo-soprano Britta Schwarz in a delightfully and sufficiently adventurous programme of late 19th and early 20th century songs. Just my tasse de thé. Rest up for the day, and then out for a late night in the wilds of Wedding.
Rest up? Off at midday to Holmes Place for Day 5 of my re-rehabiliation. Why did I go at my 40 minutes so hard? Aqua-exercise, sauna and the hardest massage I’ve ever had in my life. Home for a weeny feet up, a lovely lentil curry and cocktail at the delicious Asman restaurant, a trip to Rewe to stock my food cupboards … and it was time to set out, a bit limply, for the banks of the Panke and our concert.
We didn’t know we were also going to an Occasion. As I’ve said before, the Pianosalon has become our favourite concert venue in Berlin, and we are regular visitors. But fate and landlords decide, and this wonderful, atmospheric concert room has to go. Not far. The new premises are right nearby. But tonight was the last concert in the original venue. The place, denuded of the 120 old pianos, in various stages of disrepair, which gave it its character, was saying farewell. Well, it couldn’t have said it in better style. The room was packed, and the entertainment was excellent. And so were the artists.
I have already spilled my superlatives over my ‘five star’ acccompanist Daniel Heide, on stage and disc. For me, he is everything an accompanist should be: strong, supportive, accurate and feeling. A couple of weeks back we heard him play for a pleasant viola concert, but here, in a Liederabend, given his sympathy with voice, he was at his very best.
The singer was new to us. Tall, statuesque (you could tell she was a mezzo the moment she walked on), daringly clad in an attractive lilac number, she turned out to be a copybook Lieder singer. A smooth, vibrato-less, genuine mezzo-soprano – no shrill top, no plunging bass bottom, a lovely even sound from end to end. Perfect intonation. And, best of all, a total immersion in and interpretation of the material. Every word came clearly across. Paul said it was like a poetry recital, and he was absolutely right.
And the programme? Brahms, Schreker, Berg, Korngold (pause) Mahler, Zemlinsky, Strauss. I’ll admit my biases: I’ve never liked Korngold, and am not mad about Berg. But this was Korngold juvenilia and early Berg, so, better. I also admit to my lack of knowledge: only two songs on the whole programme were well-known to me. But so much the better: a voyage of discovery!
The first half was nice and, to my surprise, the pieces I enjoyed easily the most were the two songs by Franz Schreker. But Brahms didn’t quite get a fair go. Three Brahms songs opened the evening, and the singer was quite evidently not yet going at cruising speed. The audience clearly enjoyed Berg’s ‘Die Nachtigall’ the most, perhaps because they knew it. The half ended with the Korngold. I’m glad we were told he wrote them at age fourteen: that’s really what they sounded like. The first resembled Ivor Novello, the second gave signs of over-indulgence in ‘Der Erlkönig’. Oh, they weren’t ‘bad’, just, well, a bit trivial. I felt that they should have opened the concert, a little jeu d’esprit, leaving us to come to our mid-concert pause and glass of wine on the high of Brahms …
The second half, on the other hand, was perfect. Quite perfect. The group of Mahler songs ended with a delicious rendering of his ‘Rheinlegend’, and then we had Zemlinsky. His Sechs Gesänge are based on Maeterlinck words. During my career, my brother and I translated M Maeterlinck into English for … I have forgotten which publisher. It was almost as bad as translating Genet. I infinitely prefer him set to music. Especially music like this. And in German, so that I don’t wholly get every word. Anyway, the songs were quite beautiful, dramatic, expressive, and they were undoubtedly the hit of the night with the extremely enthusiastic audience.
To close this perfect half, what more normal than Strauss? When the strains of ‘Allerseelen’ sounded forth, I melted. The relief of hearing a song I knew (and used to sing)? Maybe a little bit. But just the pure beauty of it. And grand to hear it sung by a pure Liedersängerin, rather than an operatic voice.
I said to myself, I feel like a well-heeled Victorian gentleman, hosting an entertainment in his Park Lane drawing-room … singer and pianist were performing, tonight, just for us.
As the thunders of applause (and I exaggerate not!) pealed forth at the end, Paul whispered ‘I wish they’d do ‘Morgen’ for an encore’. And they did. And the singer did something I’ve never seen before: she sang that beautiful song, quite beautifully, holding her finale flowers to her breast. Fabulous picture. Alma Tadema. A memorable ending to a special occasion. The last night at the Pianosalon (Mark 1).
As we left, popping our donation in the cardboard tube at the door, I asked Christoph, the soul behind the whole place: ‘keep in touch?’. If it’s a nice adventurous programme, perhaps we can be there for the opening of Pianosalon Christophoroi (Mark 2).
A small aside:
A memento mori of the night. Just to stop everything being perfect. We arrived, as ever, early, so Paul could get me to my seat before the push and shove. End of the row. Perfect for an elderly gent. And he supplied me with a glass of wine, and a glass of water for the concert. I was settled. Then down the aisle stomped a grossly fat slob in green, clasping a beer bottle: wham! On to my foot. Wine and water soaked my cotton trousers, my ex-broken toe protested violently, and Herr Schlob? He stared at me and said (in German) something like ‘get your foot out of the aisle’. Here he is. In the background. Lest I forget.