Goerne and Haefliger win out at Tanglewood

Boston Globe

By Jeffrey Johnson

Baritone Matthias Goerne and pianist Andreas Haefliger are an extraordinary ensemble. Both have distinguished careers built from bewildering diversity and collaborative virtuosity. Together they performed an evening of Schumann and Brahms on Thursday that trumped significant and nagging production oversights in Seiji Ozawa Hall at Tanglewood.

The event was delayed by more than half an hour when it was discovered that song texts and translations were not available. The staff tried to photocopy a set, but ended up distributing too few. Many in the audience never received them.

The show went on. The first half of the program was built from Heine settings by Schumann. It began with “Abends am Strand,’’ Op. 45, No. 3, followed by “Es leuchtet meine Liebe,’’ Op. 127, No. 3, and “Mein Wagen rollet langsam,’’ Op. 142, No. 4.

Goerne sang with electrifying intensity and expression; he is a storyteller, and his resonant voice saturated the hall. He had an ability to shift seamlessly through registers, connecting and moving lines with an entrancing sophistication.

Liederkreis, Op. 24, are songs of restlessness with images of wandering, traveling, time, and a heart that pounds like a carpenter building a coffin. Goerne and Haefliger connected and slightly separated the final two songs from the others to highlight a twist: In the final text the restless images became unreal — the song text itself reminded us that these are just songs in a book that come to life when performed.

After intermission Haefliger played the Brahms Intermezzi, Op. 117. Throughout the evening he appeared quiet and meditative but played with rich colors and powerful momentum. He voiced the lullaby of the first intermezzo with gentle lyricism and the second, in B-flat minor, with delicate tracery and tasty balances. The final intermezzo was deliberate, but danced and swayed through the five-bar phrases that shaped it.

The evening ended with the “Neun Lieder und Gesänge,’’ Op. 32 by Brahms. Most of these texts focused on the tortures of being trapped in a toxic relationship. But as with the Liederkreis, there was a twist at the end. “Wie bist du, meine Königin’’ (How blissful you are, my queen) is a lovely waltz that speaks of a rapturous love. Goerne began the song with a sense of tenderness, but as it developed he no longer smiled. He projected an irony of submission that was powerful and quite surprising.

“Ach, wende diesen Blick’’ (Turn away this gaze), Op. 57, No. 4, by Brahms was a fitting encore.