Lieder buffs normally contemplate concert recitals by Wagnerian tenors with some apprehension. The qualities of power and endurance that suit a singer to those heroic epics do not automatically translate to the subtle intimacies of the Lieder idiom. But Siegfried Jerusalem, the leading tenor of the Berlin Deutsche Oper, is one of a handful of exceptions, an artist who easily makes that transition and who appears as comfortable with the miniature world of the song cycle as with the cosmos of the "Ring" cycle.
He made his Washington debut at the Kennedy Center's Terrace Theater last night in a program he abridged because of throat problems. No problems were evident, however, in the opening Mahler group or in Schumann's "Liederkreis," both of which glowed with the sort of vocal clarity and expressiveness that are so effective precisely because they seem so natural.
Mahler's involved songs, clothed in a deceptive simplicity, called on a broad range of vocal textures and types of sound production. Jerusalem's plaintive half-voice resignation in "Zu Strassburg auf der Schanz" and his splendidly dramatic diction in "Erinnerung" gave vivid life to the ironies of the texts.
The piano is an equal partner in the artistic content of these songs, and here pianist Siegfried Mauser did everything but steal the show. He is an enthralling pianist. He made each note special, creating an illusion of crescendos over long-held chords and even over rests, of single notes that emerged with no attack, and of vocal legatos, all in fact pianistically impossible. He molded the movement of each phrase like a sculpture and supported Jerusalem with artistic imagination.
Jerusalem found just the right impression of quiet introspective wonder for the marvelous melancholy of the Schumann. Pacing the cycle nicely, he created a context where pianissimo was the norm and mezzo-piano sounded like thunder. It was not a broad interpretation in any respect, but it was a lyrical and poetic one.
In place of the Strauss songs that Jerusalem cut from the program, Mauser played a selection from Debussy's Preludes, Book II, devoting the same attention and care to them that he did to his accompaniments. They were lovely.