Sheffield University’s new concert season, in effect, gets into motion this Thursday, the 5th of October, with a 45-minute rush hour concert given by PhD students at Firth Hall.
The city’s busiest concert season is again divided into four strands: Forged in Sheffield, featuring concerts by in-house forces; Sound Laboratory, which caters for contemporary music; Global Soundtracks, taking in an array of world music; and SongMakers.
This time round the latter provides the umbrella title for three Lieder concerts hinged on Schubert presented in collaboration with the annual Leeds Lieder festival and a performance of Bach’s B minor Mass in association with English Touring Opera on the 5th of November.
The season proper can be said to start on the 15th October with the first of three Schubert concerts under the heading ‘Schubert in Sheffield’. Every indication is that the increasingly acclaimed pianist Joseph Middleton is curating them and he begins in the realms of Goethe.
Of the 600-plus Lieder – or songs – that Schubert penned, 82 are to texts by Goethe, though not all different texts as the composer was prone to re-visiting a text, perhaps with a gap of years intervening, sometimes more than once. One song actually exists in six versions!
It’s one of his Mignon Lieder from Goethe’s multi-volume novel Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre (Wilhelm Meister’s Journeyman Years), Nur wer die Sehnsucht kennt – Only those who know longing.
Mignon is a female character in the Apprenticeship books of the philosophical saga who Wilhelm rescues on his travels the tomes, too, introducing a lugubrious blind Harper (a minstrel) who is given texts that Schubert also set.
Both are encountered at the initial concert: the three Gesänge des Harfners (Harper Songs), plus the earlier Harper song setting, Der Sänger, and four of the six Mignon Lieder, including Kennst du das Land – Know you the Land? and the fifth setting of Nur wer die Sehnsucht kennt, as a duet!
After those, we meet Gretchen from Goethe’s Faust in three songs, including the well-known Gretchen am Spinnrade and slightly less familiar Der König in Thule.
Among 16 other song masterpieces in a Goethe–Schubert timeline are the two settings (seven years apart) of Wandrers Nachtlied, Rastlose Liebe, Der Erlkönig, Ganymed, Geheimes, Der Musensohn and Wilkommen und Abschied.
Two of the finest up and coming singers around, Slovenian soprano Nika Gorić and British baritone James Newby give voice to them – the latter was awarded the Richard Tauber Prize for the best interpretation of a Schubert Lied in 2015!
Details are scarce at present on Joseph Middleton’s second Schubert concert on the 21st of November with soprano Mary Bevan, no less, which deals with myths and legend. Haydn’s cantata Arianna a Naxos has filtered through, plus Italian songs by Schubert and Mozart.
Ditto: to a point, the third concert on the 13th of February with much-praised young baritone Ashley Riches, although two song cycles appear to be scheduled, Schubert’s Schwanengesang and Beethoven’s An die ferne Geliebte (To the distant Beloved).
Details of the whole University Concert Season can be found at www.sheffield.ac.uk/concerts