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On the Aisle



Michael Schade’s New York Recital Debut

By Philip Anson / February 25, 2001
On the Aisle

Michael Schade, tenor
Graham Johnson, piano
Alice Tully Hall
Feb. 25, 2001

German-Canadian tenor Michael Schade made his New York Solo Recital Debut before an enthusiastic full house at Lincoln Center on Feb. 25, 2001. The drizzly weather didn’t discourage the singer’s fans from showing up in surprising numbers. Judging by their good behaviour, this was a hard core lieder crowd, fortified with patriotic Canadians, who can always be counted on to cheer one of their own. Sadly enough, no Canadian media (except La Scena Musicale - that’s me) cared to review this important event.

Schade’s recital came not a moment too soon. Good tenor recitals are few and far between these days. The few superstar tenors on the scene seem to prefer lucrative arena concerts or easy opera engagements to the perils of solo song recitals. An ailing Luciano Pavarotti barely survived his last New York recital (a Met Opera tribute in 1998), and Placido Domingo’s recital debut at Carnegie Hall on Jan. 30, 2000, was a shameful fiasco. The spinsterish British tenor Ian Bostridge came off as a low-cal Peter Pears in his New York recital debut in April 1999. Canadian Richard Margison gives good value with an orchestra behind him, as he proved at this year’s Met Pension Gala. But these few swallows do not a summer make. So Michael Schade had the field almost to himself (his main rival, American tenor Paul Groves, will make his Lincoln Center debut next year).

Schade’s program was uncompromisingly highbrow. It opened with a set of three Beethoven songs. The popular Adelaide gave the singer a chance to demonstrate his perfect German diction. He played up the turgid Wohne der Wehmut, Op. 83, No. 1, as if it was high tragedy. The saucy but trivial Der Kuss, Op. 128, got a few laughs. In the following Schubert set, Schade mixed several unknown lieder (Trost: an Elisa D. 97, and Laura am Klavier D. 388) with the more familiar An Sylvia D. 891, and Standchen D. 889 (he primly sang only the first verse of D. 889, since the other two verses are neither Schubert or Shakespeare). In D. 388 one marvelled at Schade’s rhetorical gifts and expressivity. His pristine elocution and attention to the text reminded one of Fischer-Dieskau, who also fetishized obscure Schubert songs. Schade is not a painter of broad canvases. He works with a voice like a diamond-tipped etching tool. The cumulative effect of his gemlike detailing is a narrative both exquisite and epic.

The next set was Liszt’s inevitable Tre sonetti di Petrarca. Call me a philistine but I dread this little cycle of pretentious drivel. I sensed that Schade was none too comfortable with it. The piano part is cheesy, and the words are empty rhetorical fluff. Schade sounded unhappy producing Liszt’s caponized high notes. To his credit he did hit the high B flats in a cloudy head tone, but to what end? If you’re going to throw away high notes, why not sing the silly aria from L’elisir d’amore? At least it would have been amusing.

After the intermission came Ravel’s Cinq melodies populaires grecques (1904-06), which as one joker remarked, are neither melodic, Greek, or popular. No matter. Schade tossed them off with good French diction (though not as good as his German). Next he offered five unrelated Fauré songs from the year 1878. Only “Adieu”, from Poeme d’un jour, Op. 21, No. 3, was worth exhuming for its delicious text by Charles Grandmougin. The other four songs were trash (minor Faure is really minor). The official program concluded with four lieder by Richard Strauss. I prefer to hear Zeugnung, Cacilie, and Morgen in orchestral arrangements sung by a juicy mezzo or soprano like Jessye Norman. The tenor version with skeletal piano accompaniment is less satisfying. Still, Schade’s Morgen was an object lesson in delicate pianissimo singing and fil de voix. Graham Johnson, with whom Schade has recorded a volume in Hyperion’s complete Schubert lieder edition, was a superb accompanist, a true poet of the keyboard.

Schade gave three encores: two more Schubert songs (including a hauntingly delicate Nacht und Traume) and a rousing Dein ist mein ganzes Herz. Then he closed the piano lid and waved the happy crowd goodbye.

Note: Schade sings Tamino in the Metropolitan Opera’s Magic Flute March 6 - 17, 2001.

> Lincoln Center

Copyright by Philip Anson (Questions or comments?


(c) La Scena Musicale 2000