Lieder recitals at the Wigmore Hall are usually very popular, so I was quite surprised at the number of empty seats at Monday’s BBC Lunchtime Concert by the distinguished tenor Christoph Prégardien and Christoph Schnackertz. Was it because there were no Schubert or Schumann songs in the programme? But Prégardien showed with his imaginative selection of songs by Wolf, Liszt and Mahler that there is more to German Lieder than just Schubert and Schumann.

In Prégardien’s well thought-out programme, the songs were grouped according to the author of the text, reflecting the strong emphasis he places on the text in Lieder singing. He began with four songs by Hugo Wolf set to the poems of Eduard Mörike, jumping in at the deep end with a highly sensual song, “Begegnung”, which is about a pair of young lovers’ night of passion. This was followed by “Der Gärdner”, a Schubertian song in lighter vein. He ended the group with a dramatic ballad, “Der Feuerreiter” (“Fire-rider”), about a knight who rides to fight a fire but dies in the flames. Prégardien is such a good storyteller and he brought great urgency and drama to this evocative poem, ending it with stillness. Christoph Schnackertz’s piano was also vivid and expressive, though at one point he threatened to overpower the voice.

The next group of Liszt’s Lieder consisted of three settings of Goethe’s texts and two of Heine’s. These songs required a higher vocal range than in the Wolf, and although Prégardien sung with utmost control, some of the high notes sounded slightly strained and hard-edged – for instance in “Der du von dem Himmel bist” (Goethe) which was sung with deep Romantic ardour. In fact, Liszt’s high Romanticism is more suited to Heine’s poetry, and his setting of Heine’s “Loreley” was one of the gems in this recital. In the piano introduction, the fateful “Tristan chord” sets the mood for the doomed ending (Liszt preceded Wagner in the use of this harmony), and Prégardien colourfully evoked the scene of the beautiful Loreley sitting on the cliff on the Rhine and luring sailors to their doom.

We were in much darker and bleaker territory in the two songs from Mahler’s Des Knaben Wunderhorn that concluded the recital. In “Wo die schönen Trompeten blasen” – a dialogue between a dead soldier and his sweetheart – the piano set the scene with its fanfare-like accompaniment and Prégardien narrated the poignant tale with tender lyricism. The second song, “Revelge”, is a grim story about the death of a young drummer-boy at war and Mahler’s music is typically sardonic. Prégardien varied the mood in each stanza according to the text, particularly articulating the haunting refrain “Tralali, tralaley, tralalera”. The young pianist Schnackertz, making his Wigmore Hall debut, gave a robust performance, bringing out Mahler’s dynamic and sharp-edged piano writing.

The audience was hugely appreciative and enthusiastic, and they were offered Schubert’s popular Lied “Im Frühling” as an encore. Prégardien sang it with a natural simplicity and his diction was so clear that I could hear every word at the back of the hall. There may be more melodious interpretations, but we were captivated with his nuanced approach.

Christoph Pregardien tenor; Christoph Schnackertz piano, at Wigmore HallNahoko Gotoh reviews Christoph Prégardien and Christoph Schnackertz in a Lieder recital at the Wigmore Hall.4