Gerold Huber

Christian Gerhaher review: Mahler in miniature

Singer's survey of smaller scale works shows the composer's more intimate side

By JEFF WINSLOW

Mention Gustav Mahler to any classical music fan (and many who aren’t), and chances are they’ll think “big” – concert-length symphonies for massive orchestras, or superstar conductor and opera director. Less well known is his “small” side: several dozen exquisitely crafted songs with piano that range from the subtle and concentrated to numbers that wouldn’t have been out of place on the pop charts of his day, had there been any.

Huber and Gerhaher performed Mahler at Portland State University. Photo: John Green.

Acclaimed German baritone Christian Gerhaher and accompanist Gerold Huber brought the most subtle and most concentrated ones to Portland State University’s Lincoln Performance Hall, Sunday afternoon December 11, as part of Friends of Chamber Music’s cherished Vocal Arts Series. Only two of the eleven songs they performed rose to rafter-rattling volume, and the audience was so rapt that they couldn’t bring themselves to applaud between songs even when the printed program indicated a break. The two musicians must have been reassured, though, by the enthusiastic ovation they got at intermission and at program’s end. For the most part, it was richly deserved.

“Don’t look at my songs!” “I breathed in a gentle scent,” “At midnight,” “If you love for beauty,” and “I’ve become lost to the world,” five songs on Friedrich Rückert poems that Mahler wrote later in life, were like perfectly formed pearls, warm to the touch from being worn close to the heart. Voice and piano melded as one, even though Huber did not obviously hold back and the piano lid was fully open. Likewise, expression was well balanced – an effortless intimacy, even vulnerability, that never became affected.

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