By John von Rhein
An admired tenor of an older generation, with a very different cultural perspective to bring to the art of song singing, made his Chicago debut over the weekend at the University of Chicago.
German tenor Christoph Pregardien may be better known as a baroque interpreter than as a lieder singer, but in fact he is an experienced and justly celebrated artist in the German song repertory. The all-Schubert program he and the veteran pianist Julius Drake presented Sunday afternoon in Mandel Hall showed the singer fully living up to his reputation as a master Schubertian.
Pregardien devoted the first half of the program to nine songs on poems by the little-known Ernst Schulze, the second half to eight lieder based on texts of various poets, including Friedrich Ruckert.
In all of the songs he proved himself to be a musical storyteller of rare perception, and rarer sensitivity. His ability to penetrate to the expressive essence of even the most banal romantic poetry, with a voice of no great size, but a softly pleasing timbre, vibrato, was remarkable. What a pleasure it was to hear German verse articulated so clearly and idiomatically through Schubert’s settings.
Drake’s splendid way with the all-important piano parts made him no mere accompanist, but a fully engaged partner in musico-poetic illumination.
The audience heard songs of nature, songs of love in its infinite variety, interesting rarities along with well-known lieder like “Im Fruhling” and “Du bist die Ruh.” Pregardien brought an almost preternatural serenity to the latter song, capping it off with a flawless shift to head voice and a perfectly sustained diminuendo on the high note. The recital was full of subtleties such as that, magic moments when singer and song were indivisible.