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Choosing who would represent singers "in the old times" in our Liederabend's alphabet wasn't difficult; Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau was my only option, for the reasons I told you about when we got to the F letter. To choose a present-day singer could seem more difficult, because we can't rely on the perspective that time gives, but I didn't have any doubts: the name had to be Simon Keenlyside. Because he's much admired on Liederabend, because he's the most heard among the active singers and because if I would have chosen another singer, those of you who know me well would have asked me in awe: "Who are you kidding?" So, here we are, with a new letter in the alphabet, K is for Keenlyside.

This post’s publication date, by chance, coincides almost exactly with the 30th anniversary of Simon Keenlyside's debut at the Wigmore Hall, on 14th May 1987, as the winner of the Richard Tauber Memorial Price in 1986. He was 27 and Geoffrey Parsons accompanied him. We're talking about a song singer with a long and brilliant career, who also has a long and brilliant career as an opera singer (if he heard me he would kindly say that he's "just a singer"); as I've often talked about him so far, this time I’ll give the floor to other people:
 
  • The first testimony is Graham Johnson, he needs no introduction. The pianist recorded the complete lieder by Schubert between 1987 and 1999; in the book included in the reissue made by Hyperion in 2005, Johnson talks about the singers he chose for the recordings. About Keenlyside, with whom he recorded in 1992 and 1994, he says that he was "destined to become one of the country’s most exciting operatic singers, but devoted, by nature and temperament, to singing lieder".
  • On year ago, Jorge Binaghi, music critic from Mundoclasico (one of my favorites) wrote such accurate words about the baritone that I saved in order to be shared in this post: "In the last quarter century, every time I've listened to Keenlyside [...] I've felt that very rare virtue of him, of being able to appear simultaneously as an endearing, nearby person, ordinary in the best sense of the word, and at the same time absolutely distinguished, special." It can't be better said. Note that Binaghi speaks of the last twenty-five years, as he has been following Keenlyside's evolution since the beginning of his career.
  • We owe this third testimony to those two ladies sitting next to me during the last Keenlyside's recital at the Teatro de la Zarzuela, in Madrid. They were chatting before the concert and I heard them saying that they didn't know the singer. I have to admit that I did pay attention to their opinions after the first part (including Schoenberg, Britten and Eisler's songs); they were so happy, saying "I really, really enjoyed it! " or "I loved it!". After the second part (with Wolf and Schubert) they were among the first to stand up, shouting bravo. That's what I call seducing.
  • Now, it's time to talk about you, my dear readers. When I said Keenlyside is a singer much admired on Liederabend, I was thinking of you, too. Do you know which name is the most searched on this web? That’s right, Keenlyside, with 15% of searches. To get some idea on the figures, the second most searched name is Schubert, with 5% of searches, more or less as the third one, Schumann. The following singer in the list is Wunderlich, after Brahms and Strauss, with 3% of searches. That is, this modest gentleman, so far from the media, non-existent on social networks and not really keen on recordings, also succeeds on Liederabend.
Recordings are wonderful, I know, but there's nothing like concerts; nothing is comparable to that unique moments we live in a concert hall; we talked about that some time ago. That's why I wanted to dedicate a letter of the alphabet to the singers in the old days, those who I got to know because of the recordings, and another one to those we can also listen in recitals. There are different kinds of love. Today, it is time to thank Simon Keenlyside and many other singers for their music: Bryn Terfel, I still remember his wonderful recital at the Liceu, in Barcelona, I'm very sorry he gradually left song. Ian Bostridge and Thomas Quasthoff who sang a few days apart at the Liceu; there was a time when eight or ten song recitals were programmed every season. Not anymore. Jonas Kaufmann, one of the few singers that, as Keenlyside, really combines opera and song, maybe more some years ago than now; Florian Boesch, Roderick Williams, Matthias Goerne... And also to the ladies! Christiane Stotjin, Sarah Connolly, Dorothea Röschmann... The list is long and, best of all, it gets longer day after day! Thank you so much to all of them.

In his first recital at the Wigmore Hall, Keenlyside sang Histoires naturelles, by Ravel; Songs and Proverbs of William Blake, by Britten and Dichterliebe, by Schumann. Ravel and Britten's cycles remained in his repertoire; it's not that he didn't sing Dichterliebe again, of course (he even recorded it which is quite unusual), but some works are, so to speak, the keystones of his repertoire. Among these works, there are many Schubert's lieder (he sings an outstanding Schubert, I'll never tire of saying), as Im Walde, D. 708, our song today (as usual when there are two songs with the same title, I specify the catalog number; the other one is Im Walde, D. 834).

Im Walde is a great song, in every sense, including its duration: more than six fantastic minutes. It's based on a poem by Friedrich von Schlegel, who was mentioned last week as one of the "fathers" of the Rheinromantik concept. In this poem, we are in a forest, in the middle of a storm. The description of the scene is, I don't find a better way to say it, expressionist. The poet offers a mosaic of images: we hear the furious wind and a rider; we see the reddish colors of twilight and the lightning. A terrible, powerful Nature. We see fountains and flowers, too, both related to sadness. The poem also talks about God, the creation, the soul, the power of the spirits... I'm afraid I should do an intensive course on philosophy to understand it completely, but the first reading, those images apparently unrelated, take us to the forest, to the night. Schubert reflects them in a powerful and evocative music, much varied, with the piano which reminds us of the gallop, or the fury of the wind, or simply of fear, and catches us from the first to the last measure. Great song, great singer and great pianist, Malcolm Martineau, as (almost) always when Simon Keenlyside sings. Enjoy it!

Finally, let me also dedicate this post to the Wigmore Hall's people. You're the best!
 
Im Walde, D. 708
 

Windes Rauschen, Gottes Flügel,
Tief in kühler Waldesnacht!
Wie der Held in Rosses Bügel,
Schwingt sich des Gedankens Macht.
Wie die alten Tannen sausen,
Hört man Geisteswogen brausen.

Herrlich ist der Flamme Leuchten
In des Morgenglanzes Rot,
Oder die das Feld befeuchten,
Blitze, schwanger oft von Tod.
Rasch die Flamme zuckt und lodert,
Wie zu Gott hinaufgefodert.

Ewig’s Rauschen sanfter Quellen
Zaubert Blumen aus dem Schmerz,
Trauer doch in linden Wellen
Schlägt uns lockend an das Herz;
Fernab hin der Geist gezogen,
Die uns locken, durch die Wogen.

Drang des Lebens aus der Hülle,
Kampf der starken Triebe wild
Wird zur schönsten Liebesfülle,
Durch des Geistes Hauch gestillt.
Schöpferischer Lüfte Wehen
Fühlt man durch die Seele gehen.

Windes Rauschen, Gottes Flügel,
Tief in dunkler Waldesnacht!
Freigegeben alle Zügel,
Schwingt sich des Gedankens Macht,
Hört in Lüften ohne Grausen
Den Gesang der Geister brausen.

The soughing of the wind, God's pinions,
Deep within the cool forest night!
As the hero swings himself into the horse's stirrups,
The power of thought swings itself.
As the old fir trees swish,
One hears waves of spirit roar.

Glorious is the radiance of the flame
In the red of the shining morning,
Or those that bedew the fields,
Lightning bolts, often pregnant with death.
Rapidly the flame flickers and flares,
As if commanded to appear before God.

The eternal murmuring of gentle water-springs
Magically calls forth flowers from pain,
But mourning in gentle waves
Beats beguilingly against our heart;
The spirit is drawn far away into the distance
By the waves that entice us.

The compulsion of life to come forth from the husk,
The battle of wild, strong urges
Becomes the most beautiful plenitude of love,
Calmed by the breath of the spirit.
One feels the blowing of creative breezes
Passing through one's soul.

The soughing of the wind, God's pinions,
Deep within the dark forest night!
Loosened from all restraints
The power of thought swings itself forth,
Hears without horror in the breezes
The singing of the spirits roar.

(translation by Sharon Krebs)

 
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