Classical review: Dietrich Henschel and Steven Osborne, Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh

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LOST love, crumbling faith and existential despair: German baritone Dietrich Henschel’s EIF recital was a pretty dark affair.

Dietrich Henschel and Steven Osborne

Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh

Star rating: * * * * *

But it was riveting from start to finish, his compelling and often highly theatrical interpretations partnered superbly by the subtle yet commanding playing of Edinburgh-born pianist Steven Osborne.

At the black heart of the concert were the songs from Swiss composer Frank Martin’s psychodrama Jedermann, in which an everyman figure questions his place in the universe and his relationship with an unresponsive God. For Henschel, it was a mini-opera: at times he fixed the audience with an icy gaze, and at others cowered against the piano in fear and anguish, all the time conveying the work’s profound philosophical questions with his rich, responsive voice. Osborne matched Henschel’s vocal power with some fearfully hammered accompaniments, yet there were also moments of luminous introspection from both of them. It was a performance of searing intensity, gripping and nerve-shredding.

Elsewhere, things were scarcely lighter. An opening set of songs by Korngold, written when he was just 14, bubbled with freshness and vigour in Henschel’s vivid readings, but a later set by the same composer returned to themes of absence and loss – although the duo delivered quietly fervent performances. Even the last of their four Mahler Wunderhorn songs, Des Antonius von Padua Fischpredigt (better known in its incarnation as the scherzo from the Second Symphony), looked futility straight in the face, despite the wit and energy of its delivery.

It might have felt rather unremittingly dark, but there was no denying the duo’s often overwhelming passion and conviction.