> BRAHMS Lieder Adam [ME]: Classical Reviews- April2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)

Vier Ernste Gesange
Der Tod, das ist die kühle nacht
Auf dem kirchhofe
Nicht mehr zu dir
Schön wahr
O Liebliche wangen
O wüsst ich doch
Sapphisches Ode
Wie bist du

In der gasse

Theo Adam (bass-baritone)
Rudolf Dunckel (piano)
Rec 1974 reissued 2002.
BERLIN CLASSICS 0094582BC [53.32]

Theo Adam is most widely known as a great Wagnerian bass-baritone, remembered for such roles as Hans Sachs and Wotan, and also renowned for his assured, reverent singing of Bach. This CD reminds us that Adam was also a Lieder singer of some distinction, using his clear, manly voice and crystalline diction in the service of composers such as Brahms. He has strong competition in the current catalogue, although until Matthias Goerne gets around to recording these songs, there remains no obvious clear recommendation as the definitive version of these wonderful pieces. The most obvious comparison is with Quasthoff, but if you want both his 'Vier Ernste Gesänge' and other songs such as 'Wie bist du, meine Königin?' you will need to buy two separate DG recordings.

'Der Tod, das ist die kühle Nacht' is finely sung, with a wonderfully sonorous low note at 'Tag,' but Adam does not give quite enough to the word 'müde,' and although he takes the dramatic outburst at 'Liebe' very well, his voice carries but little sense of the necessary rapture. The same applies to 'Nicht mehr zu dir zu gehen,' which is solidly and strongly phrased but lacks the ideal quality of obsessive attachment which Quasthoff brings to it, and phrases such as 'verlor ich' need a much more poignant emphasis.

The lively, folk-like 'Sonntag' finds both singer and pianist at their best; this is very fine singing and playing, perfectly catching the dance - based style and natural inflexions of the speaker; I played it again immediately after the first hearing and have done so many times since - I love the way Adam caresses the phrase 'tausend schöne jungfraülein.'

Rudolf Dunckel plays 'Wie bist du, meine Königin' superbly, although he misses some of the soulful, romantic emphasis given to it by Justus Zeyen, and whilst Adam certainly sings it with lovely, unforced tone, he still does not equal Quasthoff's darkly troubled, obsessive phrasing and his authentic note of enraptured bliss at the repetitions of 'Wonnevoll!' Adam's singing of this word sounds warmly paternal rather than ecstatic, and in general the singing here is a little too safe to compete with Quasthoff.

The 'Vier Ernste Gesange' is amongst the greatest works in the repertoire, and Adam's performance is one of real stature, whilst never quite approaching the heart's desire - but then, whose performance does? Both Fischer-Dieskau and Quasthoff turn in fine, sensitive, dramatic readings, and Theo Adam's is well up there with them, but anyone present at Matthias Goerne's recent Wigmore Hall Brahms recital will understand the remark that these songs have yet to meet their match on disc, since his reading, and that of Leif Ove Andsnes, was as searingly dramatic, grippingly word-sensitive, tenderly poetic and freshly conceived as it is possible to imagine. However, if you seek a version that is very finely sung without being over-emphasized, you could do a lot worse than to opt for Adam and Dunckel's. 'O Tod, wie bitter bist du' is taken very slowly, with beautifully sustained legato, and 'Wenn ich mit Menschen..' captures that necessary contrast between the swagger of the beginning and the heightened dramatic tension at the end.

Overall, a fine disc which serves as a worthy introduction to one of the greatest bass voices of our time, with some very fine singing; it may not have the vocal gloss and touching tremolo of Quasthoff, but it is undoubtedly a great voice which deserves to be heard in this repertoire, and it is supported by incisive, musical accompanying; a pity, however, that no texts are supplied. The recording is clear, with minimal echo and surrounds both voice and piano with a sense of space and refinement.

Melanie Eskenazi

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