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Belsatzar, op.57, Die Minnesänger, op.33/2*, Die feindlichen Brüder, op.49/2, Die Lotosblume, op.25/7, Die Lotosblume, op.33/3*, Lehn deine Wang' an meine Wang', op.142/2, Dein Angesicht, op.127/2, Es leuchtet meine Liebe, op.127/3, Mein Wagen rollet langsam, op.142/4

Sie liebten sich beide, Ihr Bildnis, Lorelei, Volkslied

Tragödie, op.64/3**, Der arme Peter,op.53, Dichterliebe,op.48
Christopher Maltman (baritone), Graham Johnson (pianoforte) with Leigh Woolf**. Items marked * performed by Polyphony/Stephen Layton
Hyperion CDJ33105 [77' 25"]
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I was not alone in feeling thoroughly distressed by Christopher Maltman's uncontrolled, bleating vibrato on high notes in his recital of English Orchestral Songs (CDA67065). Whether this derived from the necessity to ride over a full orchestra, whether he was having an off-day, or whether he has done some jolly good work on the problem since then (I'm inclined to think the latter), I'm happy to report that his voice on this record is evenly and firmly produced throughout its range. He manages some extremely beautiful piano high notes (around E and F) without a hint of that off-the-voice crooning which some of his colleagues offer, and produces a ringingly secure forte right up to a high A in Ich grolle nicht. It is an interesting voice, for this would be a high note even for a tenor, yet the timbre is unmistakably baritonal. At the other end of the range, he rarely descends very low (B flats seem enough for him), so we have the interesting case of a high baritone with virtually a tenor range (at least half the Dichterliebe songs are sung in their original high keys). The important thing, when nature has endowed a singer with a slightly anomalous voice, is that it should be allowed to develop for what it is and not be pigeonholed into a preconceived vocal category. It would seem that Christopher Maltman has understood this perfectly.

Together with these fine vocal qualities he has another essential requisite for lieder. His diction is crystal clear without ever interfering with the musical line, which is always allowed to blossom naturally. His range of expression encompasses easily both the drama of Belsatzar and the inward musings of Die Lotosblume. In short, this is ideal lieder singing.

There are many classic recordings of Dichterliebe in the catalogue, ranging from the ardent to the dramatic. This one opens with a sense of starry-eyed wonder, and all that follows is consistent with that beginning. Out of context, Ich grolle nicht could seem laboured, but its avoidance of a "big sing" is suitably stoic here. And besides, whatever recordings of Dichterliebe you have, you will need this one too, for it contains so many things the others don't have. You get the four songs intended for the cycle but then discarded, you get a whole range of other Heine settings together with a detailed essay by Graham Johnson about Schumann's relationship with Heine and you get four Heine settings by Clara Schumann. The first of these really has you thinking she is just as good as her husband, but her range proves smaller. Johnson generously finds a "satisfying unity" in her Lorelei, but this could be a synonym for a failure to express all the poem's many moods.

The one criticism that could be made of Hyperion's Schubert edition was that the booklets got bigger and bigger as the series went on and Johnson's anxiety to share his thoughts on every single bar of music grew, with the result that they hardly fitted into the jewel-case and came out dog-eared. This CD comes in a case big enough to contain a whole opera and Johnson is free to express himself at will. I have to confess I have only dipped in here and there so far, but never let it be forgotten that, for the price of a CD, you are getting a book (no mere booklet) as well, and one of the most authoritative ever written on the subject at that. I for one will never prepare to accompany any of these songs without referring to what Johnson has to say about it.

There is also a pretty detailed list of other composers who have set these and other Heine poems. Though the list extends to Vesque von Püttlingen and Louis Durey, I was surprised to read that Die Wallfahrt nach Kevlaar has not been set to music since it was in fact set by Stanford, and most magnificently too. Rubinstein's Heine settings are also more numerous and distinguished than Johnson evidently believes, and both he and Stanford achieved settings of Tragödie which match the Schumann version here (the Stanford is available on Hyperion for all to hear - CDA67124). But these are niggling points.

Like Hyperion's Schubert series, all the discs in the Schumann edition are essential, but this one strikes me as being even more essential than most.

Christopher Howell

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