Bergen: Johannes Weisser – Moving moments but less than full control

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This page is also available in / Cette page est également disponible en: Francais (French)

On June 6, in front of a live audience, the Norwegian baritone Johannes Weisser, accompanied by pianist Christian Ihle Hadland, offered a recital in Troldhaugen – this being the name of the house where composer Edvard Grieg lived, a national treasure. And what better way to honour the former master of the house than to offer a program of his songs, some in Norwegian, others in German.

We were able to watch this webcast on June 7 and admire the idyllic surroundings of this heritage property on Nordåsvannet Bay, near Bergen. The balance of the program comprised Gustav Mahler’s five Rückert Lieder and Robert Schumann’s Dichterliebe cycle.

Weisser has an elegant voice. Sensitive to the different nuances and subtleties of each piece, he is an expressive performer with very good intonation and musical intelligence. However, expression and drama in opera or Lieder sometimes comes at the expense of vocal technique. This invites the broader question of whether the art of classical singing should take precedence over interpretation or the reverse. Ideally, of course, there is a balance. Unfortunately, in Weisser’s case, technical control was inconsistent.

Happily, the range of the first songs on the program did not rise too high and the fine qualities of his voice were apparent, especially in “Dereinst, Gedanke mein,” Op. 48. As soon as the register went up, difficulties began. A baritone voice should blossom on top. Weisser’s tended to sound constricted. There was too much breath and not enough vibrant tone of the sort that can fill any auditorium. The third of the Rückert Lieder, “Um Mitternacht,” put the singer’s voice under pressure. The following song, in a gentler mode, was a breath of fresh air. Nevertheless, despite his acting skills, Weisser did not demonstrate a command of German diction. That the voice can easily switch from forte to piano is of little importance if justice is not done to the words.

Schumann’s Dichterliebe confirmed both the qualities and the shortcomings of this performer. Weisser had both good and less good moments, a situation that left too much room for the unexpected. Certain Lieder, like “Im Rhein” (No. 6) and “Ich hab ’im Traum geweinet” (No. 13), allowed us to enjoy his voice, his sincerity and his capacity to move us. These are the moments we remember above all.

As for the piano, Christian Ihle Hadland had more opportunity to express himself in Mahler and Schumann than in Grieg. The last Dichterliebe song, “Die alten bösen Lieder” (No. 16), ends with a long solo which allowed us to appreciate Hadland’s fine touch. As an encore, the performers offered Richard Strauss’s “Morgen!”

This presentation of the Bergen International Festival is available online through June 23. www.fib.no/en/

This page is also available in / Cette page est également disponible en: Francais (French)

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Justin Bernard est détenteur d’un doctorat en musique de l’Université de Montréal. Ses recherches portent sur la médiation musicale, notamment par le biais des nouveaux outils numériques, ainsi que sur la relation entre opéra et cinéma. Membre de l’Observatoire interdisciplinaire de création et de recherche en musique (OICRM), il a réalisé une série de capsules vidéo éducatives pour l’Orchestre symphonique de Montréal. Justin Bernard est également l’auteur de notes de programme pour le compte de la salle Bourgie du Musée des Beaux-Arts de Montréal et chargé de cours à l’Université de Sherbrooke. Par ailleurs, il anime une émission d’opéra et une chronique musicale à Radio VM (91,3 FM).

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