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Carl LOEWE (1796-1869)
Balladen Vol. 19
Der Feldherr op. 66, 1; Der Weichdorn op. 75, 2; Die Einladung op. 70, 1; Maisuna am Brunnen, 10 H. II, 1;Ali und Fatme op. 10 H. II, 2; Serbischer Liederkreis op. 15, 1-6; Allmacht Gottes, op. 89, 3; Mädchens Wunsch op. 89, 4; Die Oasis op. 10 ,4; Lied eines Vögleins op. 10 ,5; Die Sterne op. 69, 4; Die Jungfrau und der Tod op. 9 . II, 5; An die Muse; Graf Eberhard op. 9 H. IV, 5; Der fünften Mai, ;St. Johannes und das Würmlein op. 35, 1; Salvum fac regen ;Der Teufel op, 129, 1; Ewige Liebe
Ingeborg Danz (soprano); Cord Garben (piano)
recorded Stuttgart 18-20 Sept 2002 DDD
CPO 999 906-2 [66'50"]


When CPO decided to record the "complete works" of Carl Loewe, they embarked on a noble undertaking. Deservedly so, for Loewe represents a tradition in Lieder that links traditional song and balladry to song as it was understood until the end of the nineteenth century. He connects Zelter and Reichardt to Mendelssohn, Liszt and Brahms. Indeed, Loewe and Brahms set the same poets – Tieck and Uhland being represented here. Schubert and Schumann were peaks, so exceptional that they stand out like spectacular mountains over the plain. Loewe represents the tradition that evolved less dramatically, but has a richness and validity of its own. Many of Loewe's works, such as Herr Oluf, Tom der Reimer, Die Glöcke, Odin's Meeresritt, etc are great classics on their own terms, with an enduring place in the canon of great lieder. Loewe was an exact contemporary of Schubert, and a full comparison of their works does him no discredit. He was admired by no less a perfectionist than Hugo Wolf.

The CPO series is uneven, some of the volumes being outstanding, such as those featuring Kurt Moll, Edith Mathis, Christoph Prégardien, and Kurt Moll, vols. 5. 9 and 14 respectively; others perhaps less so. Loewe's less overtly approachable songs benefit from being performed by good artists who can bring out the underlying interest in the material. Ingeborg Danz is one of these – intelligent, and graced with an instinctive feel for meaning. She trained under Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, a teacher who does not suffer fools. A volume of ballads set to strophic poems could go either way – deadening or delightful – but the inherent elegance of Danz's singing makes this volume worth listening to. I first heard Danz in recital more than a decade ago, when she was starting her career, and thought she had great potential. She has done well, with a solid background in opera, Bach and the baroque. So I was delighted to hear this recording, and know my hopes were justified. Danz's voice is rich and dark hued, and she uses it with confidence and style.

Die Einladung (the invitation) for example, is a very long ballad which runs to seventeen verses, all written in the same meter. Loewe retains the simplicity of the text, which is about a peasant who prays that Jesus might sup at his table. So convinced is he that Jesus will come that he gets his family ready. As times passes, the children start to grumble as they are hungry. Then, as if by a miracle, Jesus turns up! A song of such innocent faith needs the sincerity Danz brings to it – the clarity of her diction and purity of tone make its almost hymn-like setting beautiful to listen to. The breathless excitement she brings to the last verses express a happiness no cynic could knock.

German Romantics had a passion for Muslim culture and exotic themes seemed to liberate composers from their Northern reserve. Loewe's settings of Heinrich Steglitz's "Islamic" poems are very lyrical. Maisuma am Brunnen (Maisuna at the well) is lyrical, with lovely heights and depths in the setting, which Danz navigates agilely. Passages on the piano sound almost downbeat, despite the song being written as early as 1833. Even more unusual is the setting of Ali und Fatme. Ali's song sounds almost jazzy. Danz sings the recurring line "der Sternennacht" with a seductive sensuality. A beautiful melodic interlude divides his song from Fatme's which is quite different, fast and tense. From this same group come Der Oasis and Lied eines Vögleins in der Oasis, the former particularly lovely. Loewe captures the image of the desert and its contrast with the lushness of the oasis. Danz sings the lines "und aus der Blüthen, rein und hell, springt murmelnd auf der frische Quell" so evocatively that you can almost smell the clear, fresh waters of the spring welling up, the air scented by blossom. These surprisingly modern sounding songs are a discovery.

One of the clichés often repeated about Loewe is that his works showed no development, artistically. Fortunately, here we have evidence that this is not so. The Serbischer Liederkreis which the booklet says dates from 1824, is a charmingly delicate setting of folksongs and children’s lullabies, two with a discordant ferocity which comes as a shock. In contrast there is Der Teufel, Op. 129, dating from 1859, when the composer was in his mid-sixties. This, too, is a strophic ballad but Loewe infuses it with drama. St Johannes und das Würmlein (St John and the firefly) from 1834 lifts a text by Wilhemlmine von Chezy, the maligned librettist for two operas, Schubert's Rosamonde and Weber's Euryanthe. Supported by a rippling introduction, reminiscent of Schubert, the song has considerable charm. Der fünfte Mai is another distinctive song, but a little heavy-handed, reminding the French king to be mindful of St Helena. Two of Loewe's five Napoleon songs are represented here.

Perhaps the best known song in this set is Die Sterne, from 1836. Intensely and flowingly lyrical, it is also perhaps the loveliest song on the recording. Loewe wrote it for a dear friend, to a poem written for her by her deceased lover. How it must have pleased her! This song alone is worth getting to know. The performance is flawless.

Anne Ozorio

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