Aureole etc.

Golden Age singers

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Faure songs
Charlotte de Rothschild (soprano);

  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett


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Gustav MAHLER (1860 - 1911)
Kindertotenlieder (1904): Nun will die Sonn [5.46]; Nun seh ich wohl [4.59]; Wenn Dein Mütterlein [4.25]; Oft denk’ich [3.05]; In diesem Wetter [6.12]
Richard WAGNER (1813 - 1883)

Wesendonck-Lieder (1857): der Engel [3.22]; Stehe Still! [4.04]; Im Treibhaus [6.15]; Schmerzen [2.35]; Traüme [5.07]
Hugo WOLF (1860 - 1903)

In der frühe [2.25]
Denk’es, o Seele [2.24]
Wo find’ich Trost [5.26]
Waltraud Meier, mezzo soprano
Ana Bela Chaves, viola (in Im Treibhaus)
l’Orchestre de Paris/ Daniel Barenboim
Recorded at Salle Pleyel, Paris, France, October 1988
Notes in English, Français, Deutsch, including texts and translations of all songs.
ELATUS (WARNER CLASSICS) 2564-60439-2 [56.04]

Comparison Recordings:
Maureen Forrester, Charles Munch, Boston SO RCA Red Seal LP
Janet Baker, Leonard Bernstein, Israel PO [ADD] SONY SM2K 61837
Michelle de Young, Michael Tilson Thomas San Francisco Sym. 821936-003-2
Wesendonck-Lieder: Flagstad various
Wolf Denk’es, o Seele, Schwarzkopf, Parsons EMI CDM 7636532

The main difference between an amateur and what we would call a "professional" poet is not necessarily the quality of their best work, but the fact that a "professional" writes much more poetry and hence develops a facility which allows the treatment of very subtle subjects and moods. Here we have song texts written by two famous poets and by one amateur but almost equally famous poetess. I’ve always liked Wesendonck’s "Der Engel" very much and have been working over my English translation of it for years. In their poetry the Germans seem to employ a simpler and perhaps slightly archaic grammar, and hence it is easier for English speakers to translate German poetry than it is German prose.

Mahler’s emotions regarding his own music are often difficult to understand. I heard that when he played through Das Lied von der Erde the first time for an invited audience of close friends, at the conclusion while everyone else was tearful, moved beyond speech, Mahler jumped up from the piano and said, "Well, that should make them want to run out and kill themselves!" Mahler wrote Kindertotenlieder at the peak moment of his happiness with his children and later, when they had died, he said "Perhaps it was to tempt fate to compose the Kindertotenlieder." The works, based on poems by Rückert, explore various different moods related to their subject and probably would been impossible to compose if he had been experiencing truly disabling grief. A successful performance requires a dramatic voice with a range of sounds and moods, in intimate partnership with an orchestra of great variety of color, dynamics from the quietest to the very loudest.

Daniel Barenboim and Waltraud Meyer have not too long ago done a tremendous video Tristan together, and not surprisingly their collaboration in this disk, from the sense of balance and drama, is exceptional and utterly without flaw. Unfortunately, in her low range at the beginning of the first Mahler song, Meier has some problems finding and keeping pitch, difficulties which are generally overcome by the second Mahler song and thereafter, although some slight unsteadiness is occasionally heard in quiet passages throughout; but in full voice she is glorious!

Whether I am being chauvinistic or not, I think Janet Baker has the perfect catch-in-the-throat English contralto voice for this music, and is also a magnificent actress. She sings here with Bernstein considerably better than she did when I heard her in concert some years before this recording was made, and better than on her EMI recording with Barbirolli. Bernstein accompanies her very well, restraining his usual tendency to try to pump up the musical drama with exaggerated theatrical tempo swings; this is an excellent version overall. The Mahler Symphony #8 included in the set is very so-so, displaying Bernstein’s typical wayward tampering with the rhythmic pulse of the music, making this set less attractive overall for that.

DeYoung sings for Thomas as though she can’t hear the orchestra, or perhaps she takes a prima donna’s attitude that what the orchestra does is none of her concern since its only function is to accompany her. Or she may have simply have been having a bad night; greater voices than hers have. Whatever her motivation she is consistently wobbly and behind the beat; however rich and mellow her sound, and this cannot be considered a satisfactory recording. Since she has received unreserved critical raves for everything she has ever sung, one assumes that this recording must somehow be an exceptional one.

Maureen Forrester has a voice nearly as large as DeYoung’s, but she works in intimate partnership with the orchestra, producing heart-wrenching drama and brilliant dynamic and textural contrasts. This remains one of my favourite versions of this music.

The Wesendonck Lieder have been spoken of as almost a mini-Tristan since some of the same melodic and orchestral phrases appear in both works, and this recording is by no means the first to be performed by a conductor and soloist who have also recorded the larger work. Flagstad’s interpretation is exceptional, and unique, and she recorded the work a number of times; of course these recordings are showing their age. But if you’re a Flagstad fan, you already have her doing these works, and the Meier version with its up to date sonics will be a fine partner in your collection.

The Wolf songs are settings of wonderful, strange poems by Mörike and, unfortunately, as usual, I am bewildered and angry at the bad translations furnished with the disk, even including a misprint (‘Weise’ instead of Wiese). Hopefully if you buy this disk you will have access to better texts, but it is worth the effort of learning a little German yourself to be able to appreciate these beautiful poems and, hence, these exquisite songs. Schwartzkopf with piano accompaniment sings quietly, mysteriously, with hushed drama, and Meier with the orchestra sings them operatically with brilliant drama, so comparison is hardly possible, the works easily allowing for both approaches.

Paul Shoemaker

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