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Carl LOEWE (1796-1869)
Lieder, volume 18:-

Des Glockenthürmers Töchterlein, Opus 112
Paria, Opus 58
Abendgesang, Opus 10 No. 6
Die Herzensrose, Opus 130 No. 2
Frühlingsankunft, Opus 130 No. 5
Jerusalems Zerstörung, Opus 14 No. 5
Thränen und Lächeln, Opus 4 No. 6
Der Papagei, Opus 111
Der große Kurfüst, Opus 7 No. 1
Der Stürm von Alhama, Opus 54
Der Hist auf der Brucke, Opus 130 No. 4
Das Schifflein

Jan Kobow (tenor)
Cord Garben (piano)
Rec 21-23 February 2001, Kammermusikstudio, SWR Stuttgart
CPO 999 806-2 [60.34]

This major project by CPO to create a complete recorded edition of Loewe’s vocal works reaches volume 18 with this issue.

Loewe is an important figure in the German song (lieder) repertory. Practically an exact contemporary of Schubert (he was born the previous year), we tend to think of him as a composer of the next generation, because he lived a normal life span, until 1869.

Loewe wrote in excess of 500 lieder, as well as all manner of instrumental and choral compositions, though it is for his solo vocal works that he is remembered. The fact that this CPO issue of collected songs is labelled ‘Volume 18’ tells its own tale.

The constant factor in this series is the pianist Cord Garben, and in partnership with his tenor soloist he proves an accomplished and sensitive accompanist, ever alert to the possibilities of a particular song, while ready with eager support for the singer. Unlike some other issues in the series, this one has just one singer: the tenor Jan Kobow. He is vocally secure and artistically sensitive throughout, but to be frank, an hour of one voice in this repertoire, in a recording if not in a live performance, is a little too much of a good thing. In fact it is unlikely that a lieder recital would feature an hour of songs by Loewe, all sung by the same artist.

Now this implied criticism – of lack of variety – is a little unfair, since on CD the listener can select and reselect the programme. Yet that itself raises the most important consideration of all for the serious collector of lieder. With future listening in mind, how easy will it be to find a particular song.

I do wonder, as I have already observed when reviewing previous issues in the series, whether a more chronological approach, made by opus number, would have been wiser. For the collector wishing to find that particular song, these compilations represent a challenge of detective work, even if the themes do make sense and the artistic balances offer a satisfying listening experience.

This CPO project remains a major undertaking featuring a large corpus of songs, and it is a undoubtedly a significant achievement. Loewe was inspired by many poetic sources, and it is possible to argue that he is at his best when he is most direct, laying emphasis on a straighforward and song-like melodic line. In fact this happens much of the time, which is one reason why individual songs work so well as self-standing examples of his art; as an example try the final song in this sequence: Das Schifflein (The Little Boat).

One of the most interesting things about Loewe is the sheer range of ideas that influenced him. The most remarkable example from this programme is undoubtedly Paria, a three-part Indian legend that interested Goethe. In three parts, the central section is the most substantial at more than fourteen minutes, so it is a tribute to the sensitivity and artistry of these musicians that their performance sustains its length in terms of concentration. The theme is as ambitious as we might expect, given the source: a corpse can be brought back to life, but due to a misunderstanding the chosen one combines the virtues of a goddess and the vices of a criminal. Given these imageries, it is as well that Loewe is a master of the narrative ballad.

However, this extended treatment is exceptional, and most of the songs are of shorter dimensions, standing well on their own as examples of the new romantic song style.

Another consideration for the music lover is that any of these CPO discs will be worth acquiring individually, since the programmes are so well planned, involving the artists and in particular, Cord Garben, in the decisions. Therefore the pacing and balance of each recorded recital on each individual disc, makes it worth hearing in its own right. In that sense this particular CD is perhaps less appealing than some of the others that offer the easy contrasts that come via a mixture of voices. Having said that, this remains a collection that is well worth our time and attention.

Terry Barfoot

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