Carolina Performing Arts hosted two international stars performing a wonderful recital of works by Schumann and Schubert. Dorothea Röschmann, soprano, and Mitsuko Uchida, piano, presented a rich program of songs from Schumann’s Liederjahr and a last-minute substitution of Franz Schubert’s Impromptus in F minor and A-flat, D. 935.
It’s a treat watching Uchida and Röschmann work together. The two women have completely different approaches to performing, and yet simultaneously create an incredibly sensitive and unified musical product. Röschmann is the consummate performer, from her shimmering lilac gown to her graceful gestures and commanding stage presence. Uchida, on the other hand, is so transparently passionate about the music itself that she appears to lose herself in it and turns around with a look of delighted surprise when the audience voices its appreciation. It’s a special thing to watch.
North Carolina often sees artistic benefits for purely geographic reasons – artists on national tours often stop here as a halfway point between larger metropolitan and artistic centers such as D.C., and Atlanta. In this case, this performance was the second of six concerts in such venerated venues as Carnegie Hall and London’s Wigmore Hall. Collaborations between two international artists of such high caliber are rare and thrilling events. Having a stellar act come to your very doorstep is even better.
So why, one may ask, were there at least six rows of empty seats in the back of UNC Chapel Hill’s Memorial Hall? The performance was well-advertised. Röschmann’s biography reads like a catalog of the greatest hits of opera houses, festivals, roles, and conductors. Uchida is especially famous for her interpretations of Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, and Schumann, and the international classical music community is running out of honorary doctorates, awards, and honors (including Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire) to give her. It’s a crying shame that there weren’t folks standing in the aisles. While the NC Symphony did open their Best of Broadway series the same night, NC Opera’s “Don Giovanni” didn’t open until the following day, and there simply wasn’t enough competition from local events to explain the empty seats.
Röschmann provided a moving interpretation of Schumann’s Leiderkreis, Op. 39 and of Frauenliebe un -leben (A Woman’s Love and Life). While Alban Berg’s Sieben frühe Lieder (Seven Early Songs) had originally been programmed as well, the cycle was cut as Röschmann had developed an infection and was not vocally fit enough to perform the full program. Despite not being in the best of health, Röschmann’s voice had a rich, velvet texture that allowed for lightness of expression while losing none of her depth of tone. Her diction was sublime; Röschmann is a native German speaker, and it shows in her nuanced expression of the text. While not all of the songs in the Leiderkreis cycle had the same level of emotionality, “Mondnacht” was literally breathtaking. Frauenliebe un -leben had more emotional cohesion, as the narrative provided a unified, overarching theme throughout the cycle that allowed Röschmann to express the development of the principal character.
This performance provided a rare opportunity to see a pianist in both a collaborative and in a soloistic role. Uchida is master of both. Her solo performance of two Schubert Impromptus – offered as a replacement for the Berg cycle – featured stunning transparency, delicacy and sensitivity of touch, and a refined sense of phrasing. Some critics dislike Uchida’s more reserved approach to Romantic era works, and yet it is this very reservation that lends poignancy to her musical approach. Uchida’s accompanying skills are equally unparalleled. She silently sang every note with the soloist, as well as her own intermediary melodic lines. Uchida never overshadowed Röschmann, and yet her own musicality was not sacrificed while playing in what is traditionally considered a subservient role. The instrument itself appeared to present some limitations, but it was a trifling issue compared to the intense delight of witnessing such a nuanced and warm performance.
The audience, a diverse Friday night crowd, was clearly moved by the pathos of the final song cycle, and a long, quiet pause preceded an enthusiastic burst of applause. Röschmann and Uchida further delighted listeners with Schubert’s “Nur wer Sehnsucht kennt,” which was eerily textually appropriate following the grief-stricken conclusion of Frauenliebe un -leben. The piece is featured on Röschmann’s new solo album “Portraits,” which was released in November of 2014.
This was one of those rare concerts in which every moment, every phrase, feels priceless. The enormous privilege to hear a live performance of beloved lieder by some of the world’s top musicians is one that is never to be taken for granted.