Weill Recital Hall, upstairs in the building known as “Carnegie Hall,” is an excellent place for a recital (as a recital hall should be). It may be especially well suited to a song recital. Song recitals are intimate affairs. Weill is an intimate hall.
Last Saturday night, Weill hosted Simon Bode, a tenor from Germany, and Jonathan Ware, a pianist from Texas, who lives in Berlin. Bode, who was born in 1984, has had a big career—at least by my lights. He was an artist-in-residence at Wigmore Hall, in London, last season. During that season, he sang Die schöne Müllerin (a Schubert song-cycle) with Igor Levit. Levit is one of the best pianists of our age, or, frankly, any.
The Bode/Ware program on Saturday night was attractively arranged. It began the way Tristan und Isolde (Wagner’s opera) begins: with “Westwärts schweift der Blick” (sung by a young sailor). Then, Bode and Ware launched immediately into a group by Duparc: five choice songs.
They are all choice. Henri Duparc destroyed most of the music he wrote, leaving, of his songs, only seventeen.
Bode and Ware finished the first half of their program with five German songs of Liszt (meaning Liszt songs in the German language). Speaking of German: Hugo Wolf set fifty-three poems of Eduard Mörike. Seldom has a poet lit such a fire under anyone. On the second half of their program, Bode and Ware performed nine of the Mörike-Lieder. They offered a tenth, as an encore: “Verborgenheit.” It is the duo’s favorite Mörike song, said Bode from the stage beforehand.
I thought of Christa Ludwig, the late, great German mezzo-soprano. In a 2014 interview, she told me, “My beloved composer of song is Hugo Wolf. If I was crying when I stopped singing, it was only because I could no longer sing Hugo Wolf. This is the high point of lieder-composing, for me.”
Early in the evening, especially, Mr. Bode had trouble with intonation. He had trouble finding the pitch. He suffered from some tightness, on high notes in particular. He did not seem at all “hooked up.” But he persevered and got better as the recital wore on. He showed a fine “head voice.” His German was gratifyingly clear. He knows how to phrase. He knows his songs.
And this, I would like to stress: he was brave. When it was time to go up for a soft high note—whether he was hooked up or not—he did so, without fudging or otherwise trying to cover. He was willing to be “exposed.”
As regular readers know, I often say that musicians’ bios are a joke. They are bastions of lies. By comparison, politicians’ speeches are honest. But, you know? There is something in Jonathan Ware’s bio that is perfectly true. It calls him a “spirited” pianist. He certainly is—animated, involved, and unshy. He played boldly, with the lid all the way up. In Liszt’s “Loreley,” he cooked up an impressive swirling of waves.
Simon Bode showed his appreciation of his pianist in an interesting way. He would applaud him by clapping on the piano. By the evidence, tenor and pianist share a true camaraderie.