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Songs after Poems by Theodor Storm:
Hermann REUTTER (1900-1985)
Fünf Lieder nach Texten von Storm
Die Stadt
O bleibe treu den Toten
Wohl fühle ich, wie das Leben rinnt
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Über die Heide hallet mein Schritt
Heinrich van EYKEN (1861-1908)
Nun geht der Mond durch Wolkennacht
Felix MOTTL (1856-1911)
Schließe mir die Augen beide
Gustav JENNER (1865-1920)
Noch einmal
Paul CARRIÈRE (1887-1929)
Schließe mir die Augen beide
Alban BERG (1885-1935)
Die Nachtigall
Gustav STOLZ (1873-1957)
Als ich dich kaum geseh’n
Hans von BLOME (1834-1921)
Die Nelken
Gustav EGGERS (1835-1861)
So dunkel die Straßen
Richard TRUNK (1879-1968)
Die Stadt
Othmar SCHOECK (1886-1957)
Alban BERG (1885-1935)
Schließe mir die Augen beide
Richard MANDL (1859-1918)
Gode Nacht
Max REGER (1873-1916)
Franz SCHREKER (1878-1934)
Wohl fühl ich, wie das Leben rinnt
Joseph MARX (1882-1964)
Schließe mir die Augen beide
Gustav JENNER (1865-1920)
Die Nachtigall
Hans HERMANN (1870-1931)
Hans Christian DÉTLEFSEN (* 1951)
Fünf Gedichte von Theodor Storm
Die Stadt
Ein grünes Blatt
Schließe mir die Augen beide
Zur Nacht
Ulf Bästlein (baritone), Charles Spencer (piano)
Recorded Bad Arolsen, August 21-24, 2003. DDD

Just as Hardy's vision of Wessex shaped his work, Theodor Storm's identification with his home town, Husum and its region suffused his work with its spirit of place and time. North Friesland is an area of mudflats, islands where small farms are protected only by dykes. It is flat, featureless and exposed to Baltic storms. From this, Storm, a gifted tenor himself, evokes a world of complex lyricism that is innately musical.

Nearly everything is "right" on this recording. It is the first to bring together a range of different settings of the poet, carefully chosen from over 2500 songs, by 800 composers. It was a labour of love by Ulf Bästlein, the baritone, a native of Husum himself, who grew up with the poems and understood their source. The notes, by Lutz Lesle, are unusually well researched and written. New translations were made, and funding raised in the Husum area. Dabringhaus and Grimm are audiophile recording engineers who aim at "genuine reproduction, original dynamics, and natural tone colours". This recording was made in a hall chosen for its acoustic qualities. Needless to say, the performances are particularly well thought through and of a high standard. Altogether a wonderful, rewarding package that deserves to be heard by anyone interested in how poetry translates into song.

Bästlein says that he chose settings that did justice to the "brooding sensitivity, warmth, inwardness, passion and nostalgia" of the poems and their "powerful sense of form and concise unity". Thus he has included some lesser known and modern settings which let the poetry shine through. There are three versions of the masterpiece Die Stadt. It is a hymn to town by "the grey shore, by the grey sea", where the fog lies heavy, and through the stillness "roars the sea". A similar image inspired Heine's Die Stadt, but here instead of sorrow, the poet is filled with love for the grey town and the magic of his youth. Hermann Reutter (1900-1985) captures the ebb and flow of the tides in long, elegiac phrasing : modern as the setting is, it seems to take off from where Schubert left his Heine setting. Richard Trunk (1879-1968) is more melodic. It bursts forth in a great surge of warmth as the singer declares his love for the town. Perhaps it is a favourite of the performers, as the notes wax lyrical about its structure. Détlefsen (b 1951) chooses a more abstract, stylised approach, with sudden stops, starts and silences.

There are five settings of Schließe mir die Augen beide. The poet wants loving hands to close his eyes and give him rest. He uses the image of waves to describe sleep, and suddenly rises again, his heart overflowing with love. Again, the programme notes give a detailed analysis showing the method by which each composer creates an individual statement. The Alban Berg setting is the most lilting. This is his first setting from 1900: later he was to reset it on twelve tone principles. Felix Mottl (1856-1911) sets it with Romantic lushness, the piano part making full use of rich, full tones. Paul Carrière (1887-1929) gives the poem a deceptively straightforward setting, but he notes the sudden change in the last lines which speak of love – his tempo and pace change fulsomely. It's a very attractive song. Joseph Marx (1882-1964) also chooses the high Romantic approach, but with a nice crescendo on the final words "füllest du mein ganzes Herz," as the piano fades away gently. The most unusual setting is Détlefsens. Where the voice part ebbs and flows, while the piano part is more animated, bursting forth into a dramatic solo between verses, then darkening in tone as the voice re-enters. The line "füllest du mein ganzes Herz," is repeated several times and in different ways for emphasis, but the dominant part here really is the piano and its equivocal, intriguing commentary.

It's interesting, too, to compare Berg's famous Nachtigall with that of Gustav Jenner (1865-1920). We're so used to the lushly sensuous Berg, so the upbeat Jenner, who varies his rhythms merrily, comes as a surprise.

Storm was proud of his regional identity, and indeed went into exile in Prussia rather than live under Danish occupation. His interest in folk traditions is showcased in Gode Nacht. The poem is written in Friesian dialect and calls out for a light, folk like setting. Richard Mandl (1858-1918) manages to combine a simple, lyrical setting with depth and warmth. This song is most charming, and can run around in your head for a long time. Brahms' well known Über die Heide hallet mein Schritt is another "composed" folksong, artistically sophisticated but true to the spirit of folksong.

There two song groups in this recording, which offer yet another perspective on how a composer approaches a poet. Reutter brings dramatic touches to Hyazinthen, for example. Détlefsens group is more abstract, and quite fascinating. Some of the composers in this recording, may be obscure, but Détlefsen, who is still active, is a name to watch. The art of lieder is alive and healthy. This very worthwhile recording has, if nothing else, brought an interesting composer to wider attention.

Anne Ozorio

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