> Carl Loewe - Lieder & Balladen [JW]: Classical CD Reviews- Sept 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Carl LOEWE (1796-1869)
Der selt’ne Beter
Der alte Goethe
Graf Eberstein
Fredericus Rex
Der gefangene Admiral
Gruss vom Meere
Die Überfahrt
Der Asra
Jordans Ufer
Der Weichdorn
Das Wunder auf der Flucht
Ich bin ein gutter Hirte
Das dunkle Auge
Mein Geist ist trüb
Die Sonne der Schlafloden
Der Wirthin Töchterlein
Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, baritone
Hartmut Höll
Recorded location unspecified, 1987
APEX 0927 44767 2 [70’02]

Loewe had an astute ear for superior poetry setting; Schiller, Byron, Heine, Rückert, Goethe. His prowess as a choral conductor and as a pianist were memorably augmented by his success as a singer – he sang across Europe. His great gift was to modify the simple strophic style of previous ballads that meant, in effect, absorbing late eighteenth century German ballad style and extending it musically to include elements of antitheses and internal drama. These were generally not taken to Schubertian extremes but Loewe claims clarity and directness as cardinal virtues. His piano accompaniments are generally supportive and don’t interfere unduly with the singer’s line. Lyric passages or moments of heightened drama are generally effective and often much more. One of the many pleasures of this disc is to listen to some of the lesser know Loewe songs – none of the familiar favouites are here, so no Archibald Douglas, or Erlkonig or Tom der Reimer.

Fischer-Dieskau’s legato is impressive in Der selt’ne Beter, his repeated, descending las mir of great plangency whereas the witty tale of Graf Eberstein with its top and tail dance sections and tales of duplicity and intrigue is a splendid example of both Loewe’s clarity and imagination and the singer’s powers of projection. Fredericus Rex causes him one or two problems; whilst he’s finely stentorian some aspects of the word setting cause him to falter slightly over the runs. Equally whilst he manages the full compass of Der gefangene Admiral there are undeniable strains at the top of his voice. I enjoyed the very light pictorialism of the sea in Gruss vom Meere – in the main Loewe avoids the relative simplicities of the strophic end of the ballad tradition inflecting it instead with moments of reflective intimacy and outburst and thematic figures, maybe with minimal piano postludes, within the confines of a relatively strict form. The Arabic songs are especially good; Der Asra is a witty and tripping little setting, as the delicate filigree traces the implications of Heine’s poem. Hartmut Höll shines here as well, constantly alert to the minutest sheds of colour and adduced meaning in the piano accompaniment. One of the highlights of the disc is Fischer-Dieskau and Höll in Das Wunder auf der Flucht, a magnificent setting of a Rückert poem. With its repeated treble notes for the pianist and with Fischer-Dieskau’s refined and consummate musicianship it makes for a bravura piece of storytelling. Contrasted immediately here is the following song, Ich bin ein gutter Hirte. Its nobility of utterance can’t quite disguise the fact that this song – not assigned an opus number incidentally – hearkens back to the strophic simplicities of an earlier style. And who could resist Bauernregel? A rustic little piece by Ludwig Uhland it lasts all of thirty-eight seconds. It shows another side to Loewe’s imagination – and is part of a thoroughly recommendable disc.

Jonathan Woolf

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