Günther Groissböck’s entrance at La Scala for his recital was formal and perfectly polite, but gave away nothing about the man; and so it was during the first group of Leid by Brahms, the Vier ernste Gesänge (Four Serious Songs). His unforced bass completely submitted to his will and – aside from some small cracks which seemed to indicate the tail end of a cold – was entirely under his control as he used the full dynamic range of a large yet rich voice. It was a beautifully tailored performance, full of detail and elegance, yet something was missing. The history of La Scala’s auditorium can weigh heavy on those who stride onto its stage, especially when you are the only singer, facing your audience without makeup and costume. In fact, after the warm but not particularly effusive applause for the Brahms, Groissböck already had a bounce in his step as he came back on stage and was lighter and brighter – though not in his interpretation – for Schumann’s Liederkreis cycle. The composer himself called these songs his “most romantic music ever”, and from the haunting simplicity of In der Fremde via the exquisitely beautiful Mondnacht to the excited urgency of Frühlingsnacht, Groissböck came into his own.
In the Russian second half, he showed how he owns this repertoire. Net, tol’ko tot, kto znal, better known as None but the Lonely Heart, was broad and generous but he also took the voice down to the quietest of pianissimi. Don Juan’s Serenade, which closed the Tchaikovsky group, gave the magnificent Gerold Huber – Groissböck’s frequent collaborator – another opportunity to shine, while Groissböck demonstrated his skill at storytelling and well as the comfortable top to his voice.
Coming on for the closing Rachmaninov songs saw him almost hop on like an eager child; I have never seen such a transformation during a recital, and the more he settled in the more the audience responded. He was thoroughly at home now in both the music and his place on the stage. The official programme culminated with the tormented Otryvok iz A Mjusse (An excerpt from Alfred de Musset) which revealed the many colours and range that this impressive singer has… and it brought the house down.
In his infectious introduction to his encores, in almost flawless Italian, he announced that usually he would have sung the Neapolitan song Core ‘ngrato, but he lacked the courage to sing it in front of an Italian audience. However, that didn’t stop him from singing (quite wonderfully) Filippo II’s scene and aria from Don Carlo. He impressed, too, in another encore, Schubert’s Erlkönig, where his musicianship and acting, together with the always supportive Huber, came together for another winning performance.
It’s to be hoped that he’ll feel more at home when he returns, which, with any luck, will be quite soon.