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Ludwig Van
Toronto Montreal

SCRUTINY | Masterful, Mesmerising Art Song From Christoph Prégardien And Julius Drake

By John Terauds on July 18, 2018

Chrstoph Prégardien and Julius Drake (Photo: John Terauds)
Christoph Prégardien and Julius Drake partner in a night of songs by Gustav Mahler and Franz Schubert. (Photo: John Terauds)

Christoph Prégardien and Julius Drake in recital. Toronto Summer Music Festival. Walter Hall. July 17.

The very best art song recitals draw one into a tight, charmed circle, where it’s nothing but the singer, the song and your eager ears. Tuesday night’s Toronto Summer Music Festival performance by German tenor Christoph Prégardien and British pianist Julius Drake was such an occasion.

Working every note as a musical team, the two masters of their craft were mesmerizing in 90 minutes of Lieder by Gustav Mahler and Franz Schubert.

It might seem that performing a handful of songs over the course of an evening would be a breeze, but finding the right mood and the most direct way of connecting not only the words but the full emotional range and musical shape of each song needs much meticulous preparation.

After you’ve done the preparation, it all has to look effortless, as if you’ve just decided to have a little after-dinner go at it at your best friend’s piano.

Drake is on the verge of 60, and Prégardien is 62. They have spent their entire adult lives with art song, and it shows. There wasn’t a detail left unaccounted for in six selections from Mahler’s Des Knabe Wunderhorn song cycle, “Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen” (I have let go of the world) from Mahler’s Ruckert-Lieder, and 10 Lieder by Schubert (including two encores).

Prégardien began with Mahler, but the first two songs were really a warmup. The tenor has been delving into a more baritonal sound in recent years, and it took a little while for the voice to loosen up.

Once Prégardien’s voice was in full flight for “Urlicht,” probably the most famous of the Knabe Wunderhorn songs, the recital became electric. Frequently, the singer took the Lieder at a fairly slow pace, but his determined, immaculate phrasing and expression made the passage of time immaterial.

It’s funny to think of Mahler as a warmup, but the Schubert songs need an incredible amount of effort in order for their full poetic range to bloom. Prégardien did not just stick to old chestnuts, delving into the more sweeping and dramatic material such as “Totengrabers Heimweg” (the gravedigger’s way home).

Like a great storyteller, Prégardien brought each story to vivid life — without any undue or obvious theatrics.

Equally fulfilling was the partnership with the pianist. Drake conjured up the full symphonic sweep of Mahler’s accompaniments with just two hands and the student-beaten Steinway at Walter Hall. This was not a shy or discreet accompaniment; it was a collaboration that matched the colour and mood of the melody note for note.

Schubert is remarkable for his musical pivot between light and dark, sometimes in the same breath. Both singer and pianist made these passages palpable.

Song recitals are not known as the musical world’s most exciting way to spend an evening. But when true masters take the stage, any other kind of excitement seems superfluous.

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Like all of the professional artists invited to the Toronto Summer Music Festival, Christoph Prégardien is spending some time with the Festival’s young performers. This includes a free public masterclass on July 19, at Walter Hall. This may be a wonderful window on seeing what is really needed to make musical magic happen on stage.

You can find the full festival schedule at torontosummermusic.com or on our Datebook Calendar.

John Terauds

John Terauds

John Terauds, the founder of Musical Toronto, is currently a Divinity student at University of Toronto and a church music director. He joined the Toronto Star in 1988, was the classical music critic from 2005 to 2012, and continues as a freelance critic for the paper. He is the co-author of Roy Thomson Hall: A Portrait, a book written with Toronto Star Colleague, William Littler.
John Terauds
John Terauds

John Terauds

John Terauds, the founder of Musical Toronto, is currently a Divinity student at University of Toronto and a church music director. He joined the Toronto Star in 1988, was the classical music critic from 2005 to 2012, and continues as a freelance critic for the paper. He is the co-author of Roy Thomson Hall: A Portrait, a book written with Toronto Star Colleague, William Littler.
John Terauds
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