Kissin / Goerne (Concert Review): A Poet’s Love

North American audiences can consider themselves lucky that Evgeny Kissin, one of the finest concert pianists of his day, is touring with baritone Matthias Goerne for a programme of Schumann and Brahms lieder (songs).

It’s rare that a pianist of Kissin’s calibre tours as an accompanist (though the Brahms/Schumann compositions demand more from than that word implies), and rarer still that it’s in service of a superstar baritone.

Kissin / Goerne (Concert Review): A Poet's Love

The one-off Toronto concert (Sunday, September 21, 2024) featured Schumann’s sixteen-song Dichterliebe, Op. 48 (1840/44) alongside several works by his contemporary and friend Brahms, including the Four Ballades, Op. 10 (1854), a selection from Songs After Poems by Heinrich Heine (1878-1882) and the Lieder und Gesänge (1864).

Kissin is a masterful pianist, drawing from his instrument (a Steinway, naturally) the elegant, soulful tones these songs require. Goerne, who has appeared, well, everywhere (Met Opera, Royal Opera House, Vienna State Opera, etc.) is a remarkable singer, equally renowned for his award-winning recordings as his interpretations of the major operatic roles, including Wagner roles (Wotan and Amfortas), Berg’s Wozzeck, and Bartok’s Bluebeard.

The first half of the programme was exclusively devoted to Schumann’s “Poet’s Love” song cycle (1840/1844). The cycle, adapted from a Heinrich Heine poetry collection, is told from the perspective of a lovesick knight, who imagines winning and losing the love of a beautiful maiden. Highlights included the painfully beautiful Hör’ ich das Liedchen klingen (I hear the song playing / which my love once sang) and the rousing, mildly satirical Ein Jüngling liebt ein Mädchen (A boy loves a girl / she chooses another).

The meatier second half began with what, I suspect, many were in attendance for four Brahms piano pieces performed by Kissin. A leading interpreter of the Romantic composers, Kissin demonstrated his facility with the material, which was composed at the height of the Brahms-R. Schumann-C. Schumann’s “love triangle” (which the program helpfully reminds us was likely unrequited on the Brahms-Clara side of the triangle). Kissin’s standing ovation – a mid-concert rarity – was altogether deserved.

The concert closed out with another selection of Brahms lieder, adapted from the same poet, Heine, who inspired Schumann’s earlier “Poet’s Love”. There is a point, this critic confesses, when these various songs all start to blend together, though the obvious standout – 1864’s Wie bist du, meine Königin (How are you, my Queen) – remains rightly acclaimed as among the finest of the genre. A closing encore – it sounded like Schumann, but I’ll need help identifying it, if anyone reading this was in attendance! – had both Goerne and Kissin at their best, clearly thrilling at the interplay between the lyrical piano part and the lovely vocals.

While Kissin was here for a solo concert last year (our review here), neither Kissin nor Goerne appear to have any upcoming Canadian dates. That said, stay tuned to the Toronto Guardian for the latest and greatest from Roy Thomson, Massey, and all the other wonderful Toronto concert halls.

For tickets and the Roy Thomson Hall calendar, click here.