> BRAHMS Alto Rhapsody etc Helen Watts [JW]: Classical CD Reviews- July2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)

Alto Rhapsody Op 53
Nanie Op 82
Four Serious Songs Op 121
Five Songs Op 94
Helen Watts, contralto with the Choirs of Suisse Romande and Pro Arte de Lausanne and the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande conducted by Ernest Ansermet (Alto Rhapsody, Nanie) Recorded 1967
John Shirley-Quirk, Baritone with Martin Isepp, piano (Four Serious Songs, Five Songs) Recorded 1971
DECCA ELOQUENCE 461 245-2 [57’50]



This compilation was last available domestically on Belart with an identical catalogue number. The Alto Rhapsody and Nanie were themselves first issued on Decca in 1967 and Shirley-Quirk’s songs on Argo in 1971. Their longevity and continued appearance in the catalogue is entirely due to the unostentatious excellence of the performances and recordings and to the well balanced and modulated programme, which makes renewed claims on the attention of the collector in this latest incarnation in the Australian Eloquence series.

All the performances retain a freshness of inspiration that are impossible to resist. Maybe the strings are a touch metallic in the Alto Rhapsody – a fault of the recording I think rather than the Suisse Romande – but there is rich compensation in the shape of Ansermet’s acute Brahmsian instincts (both here and in the still undervalued Nanie he displays a rich palette of gifts). Helen Watts is at all times technically eloquent and elegantly expressive. The Alto Rhapsody strikes me as maintaining an inherently honest balance between the exterior and interior elements of the score. The recital is shared with Shirley-Quirk and Isepp’s Songs, Opp 121 and 94. The baritone is in splendid voice, his interpretive skills profoundly impressive in the Four Serious Songs. In Ich wandte mich he floats his half voice to magical effect, broadening elsewhere in acts of unselfconscious musicality. In O Tod, wie bitter bist du there is nothing of the speciously declamatory or rhetorical about his singing. This is singing from the inside, from the sinew of the text and score, an art some more pugnacious singers seldom approach. His baritone is projected with evenness and with clarity.

A re-release of this kind doesn’t need much reviewing; this is another opportunity to acquire a recital of integrity, musical wisdom and deep understanding.

Jonathan Woolf

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