Hagegard shows himself still a master of lieder

January 17, 1995|By Stephen Wigler | Stephen Wigler,Sun Music Critic

The Swedish baritone Hakan Hagegard first came to public attention in this country 20 years ago as a delightful Papageno in Ingmar Bergman's film of Mozart's "The Magic Flute." Since that time Hagegard has become one of the world's pre-eminent interpreters of Mozart's Count Almaviva, Rossini's Figaro and Tchaikovsky's Onegin on the operatic stage. He is perhaps our best lieder singer since Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and Hermann Prey were in their prime.

It was in the latter role that Hagegard appeared Sunday evening in the Shriver Hall series. It was the first opportunity this listener has had to hear him in almost 13 years and it's a pleasure to report that his once light, lyrical voice has grown darker and more powerful without losing any of its beauty or flexibility. The voice may no longer have the beautiful top it once had -- Hagegard had some trouble, particularly in the recital's early moments, with his head tones -- but it's hard to think of another singer so convincing in a program that ranged from Schubert and Strauss through Grieg and Sibelius.

The first half of the program consisted of 10 of the 14 songs from Schubert's final year that were collected after the composer's death as "Schwanengesang." Hagegard met the challenges posed by each of these demanding pieces -- whether in the composer's searching and intense settings of Heinrich Heine or the more cheerful ones of Ludwig Rellstab. "Der Atlas," which opened the recital, was a shattering and defiant cry of misery and "Der Doppelganger" was chillingly intense; the Rellstab settings, such as the celebrated "Standchen," were delightfully light and charming.

In the Schubert songs, as he was throughout the recital, Hagegard benefited from the superb collaboration of pianist Warren Jones. That this was to be a genuine partnership was clear before the musicians entered: the lid of the piano was open, not closed as it would have been if this had been merely a star turn by a celebrated singer. Jones' playing was beautiful and fresh. He illuminated every phrase, supported every detail and continually challenged the singer to do his best.

After intermission came intelligent and confident interpretations of songs by Strauss, Stenhammar, Grieg, Sibelius and Wolf. The best of them may have come in the concluding number, Wolf's "Abschied" -- in which the singer and pianist filled the hall with laughter in the composer's savagely funny comeuppance to one of those miserable creatures, a music critic.

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