A 2005 photograph of Christoph Eschenbach conducting the Philadelphia… (Carolyn Cole/Los Angeles…)
A pair of simpatico Schubertians, baritone Matthias Goerne and conductor-pianist Christoph Eschenbach, put on a Schubertiade for the ages this last week at Walt Disney Concert Hall.
After a daringly slow yet moving "Die Schöne Müllerin" Monday and an even better, mesmerizing "Winterreise" Wednesday, they brought the Sublime Schubert festival to a mighty head Friday night by adding the Los Angeles Philharmonic to the mix. In doing so, they provided a rare yet enlightening look at the way previous generations once heard Schubert lieder -- through the prisms of orchestrations by other composers.
These were not hacks, either – not with brand names like Brahms, Reger, Webern and the anonymous fellow who penned the sensitive treatment of “An Silvia.” By and large, even though the orchestrated lieder still breathe Schubert through and through, you could sense the personalities of their orchestrators – Brahms’ distinctive horn and wind voicings in “Memnon,” Webern’s early Romantic style with just a touch of his pointillistic future, Reger’s thicker textures.
Friday’s performances also marked the peak of the Goerne/Eschenbach collaboration; Goerne’s baritone sounded even richer, more resonant and more expressive in this orchestral context, with Eschenbach completely keyed in on the podium with his singer, almost in a trance. They performed seven lieder and added two more as encores – the famous “Ständchen” from “Schwanengesang” and “An die Musik” – with Webern’s lushly caressing treatment of “Tränenregen” from “Schöner Müllerin” being the most affecting performance.
Finally, to wrap it all up, a Schubert symphony, the spread-out propulsive Ninth, as Eschenbach gave another of his demonstrations of subjective conducting that keeps you on the edge of your seat. Sometimes, there was too much micromanaging of the tempos – although the straight-ahead Finale was completely free of that – but Eschenbach always kept the textures lean and clean, with the Philharmonic tightly focused on every tap of the brakes.