Recital Piotr Beczała and Helmut Deutsch, Linz, October 6th, 2019
Asked for the most important Austrian city for classical music, many international music lovers will spontaneously answer: “Vienna”. Some might add Salzburg. A few could even mention the music festivals at Bregenz and St. Margarethen. But hardly anyone will mention Linz.
And yet, the capital of the Austrian province Upper Austria has a lot to offer, too. In the 1970s, the city’s advertising slogan, which is still a winged word in Upper Austria, was In Linz beginnt’s (It starts in Linz). Anton Bruckner, one of the famous sons of Upper Austria, spent a wide part of his life here. Tenor Richard Tauber was born in Linz, and in 1992 a young Polish opera singer started his (later world) career at the “Landestheater Linz”. This singer now returned to his artistic cradle: Piotr Beczała gave a recital in the concert hall „Brucknerhaus“ in Linz on October 6th, 2019.
Just one day before, Italian tenor Marcello Giordani had suddenly passed away at the age of only 56, and Piotr Beczała dedicated the evening to honour his late colleague and friend.
Beczała was accompanied on the piano by Helmut Deutsch.
Difficult, but top-class programme
The programme was somewhat unusual for a small Austrian town with 200.000 inhabitants. One would have expected popular German Lieder and probably some arias, but Beczała decided to introduce the audience to mainly Polish Lieder.
The first of four parts was dedicated to composer Stanisław Moniuszko (1819–1872). He is addressed as the “father or Polish national opera”. For his Lieder, Moniuszko mainly used popular folk themes which met the patriotic feelings of his time. I would describe his style as vivid, lively and bouncy.
The second part featured Lieder by Mieczysław Karłowicz (1876–1909), a great admirer of Tchaikovsky’s music and influenced also by other composers of the Romantic era, for example Richard Wagner and Georges Bizet. However, he had developed a very unique melodic way of expression, heavier than Karłowicz’ style, which served as kind of a bridge during the recital to introduce the third part, mainly romances by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840–1893). The fourth part was the logic conclusion – Lieder by Richard Strauss.
High level evening
For the mostly German speaking audience, it was difficult to fully understand the message of the Polish Lieder. Usually, if we listen to Lieder in our native language, we hear “not only music”, but also understand some deeper meanings, emotions, and intentions. In Polish, we do not. The German translations in the programme book were helpful, but not readable in the darkness during the recital. Thus one could only lean back and listen. Listening was a joy, though. Piotr Beczała, who had just recovered from a burst blood vessel on his vocal cords, was in very good shape. Being a Polish native, this sort of programme was of course a “home game”. He visibly and audibly felt at home in this repertoire, and this could be heard by the sensitive interpretation. Even if we did not understand the language, he was able to deliver the emotions or atmospheres described in the Polish text. Pain, love, suffering, joy – all the melancholy was expressed in his performance. Whispering, breathy, soft notes alternated with powerful – but never too loud – passages. He sometimes seemed to intentionally give his ringing high notes a dark-ish touch, which sounded very pleasant and adequate for this repertoire. One could almost see the dark, thick Polish forests described in some of the texts.
When it came to Strauss’ Lieder, it was easier to evaluate his performance. Especially Beczała’s very accurate and clear German diction is worth mentioning it, but also his singing did not lack anything in the German repertoire.
Wonderful Helmut Deutsch
Pianist Helmut Deutsch, who has been working with musical icons like Irmgard Seefried, Hermann Prey, Ileana Cotrubas, Grace Bumbry, Hans Hotter, Thomas Quasthoff, Jonas Kaufmann, Diana Damrau, Brigitte Fassbaender, Ann-Sophie Otter, and dozens of other famous singers, was an experience of his own. For me, he was not only “accompanying” that evening, but giving us a wonderful “solo” performance himself. His dedication to Lieder in general was audible; he caressed the keyboard with utmost love and respect for the music, enjoying every chord until the very last fading sound, whilst never losing the connection to Beczała’s lines.
Approximately 1500 people were rewarded with an unexpectedly high-class performance of both participants. Loud applause was the result, which lead to one encore, another Polish Lied, of which unfortunately neither the composer nor the title could be found out.
However – it was an evening telling the music world: Look and listen! Vienna might be famous, but “In Linz beginnt’s” !
(published on 7 October 2019)