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Richard WAGNER (1813 – 1883)
Wesendonck Lieder (1857/8) [20:37]
Gösta NYSTROEM (1890 – 1966)
Sånger vid havet (1942/3) [18:33]
August de BOECK (1865 – 1937)
Sept Mélodies (1911/5) [26:33]
Nina Stemme (soprano); Jozef de Beenhouwer (piano)
Recorded: Academiezaal, Sint Truiden, March 2003 (Wagner, Nystroem) and Blauwe Zaal-deSingel, Antwerp, May 2004 (de Boeck)
PHAEDRA 92040 [66:05]


Let it be said straightaway, this is a varied and most interesting release, in that it includes some familiar stuff (Wagner’s Wesendonck Lieder) as well as some less familiar works, although Nystroem’s song cycle is rather better-known than de Boeck’s songs, the real novelty here. 

Wagner’s Wesendonck Lieder have become a classic of some sort, and thus do not call for many comments. Suffice it to say that they are quite beautiful and beautifully sung here by Nina Stemme superbly partnered by Jozef de Beenhouwer. 

Nystroem’s beautiful song cycle Sånger vid havet is comparatively well-known and has been regularly taken-up by sopranos or mezzo-sopranos. I came to love this piece through an old recording by Aulikki Rautawaara (on Swedish Society SCD 1039, possibly still available) and, some time later, thanks to Rosemarie Lang’s recording (BIS CD-530). These recordings are both of the orchestral version, that – on the whole – may be more successful in conveying the presence of the sea that has often been a source of inspiration for Nystroem (just think of his third symphony Sinfonia del Mare [1946/8] or of his symphonic poem Ishavet [1924/5]); but the present recording of the voice-and-piano version works remarkably well indeed. Listening to it again, I was not surprised that this atmospheric, often impressionistic song cycle has enjoyed (and still does) some popularity among sopranos and audiences as well. Of course, Nina Stemme is on her own territory here and sings beautifully throughout. 

August de Boeck and his near-contemporary Lodewijk Mortelmans may rightly be considered as the founding fathers of 20th century Flemish music. They were the first Flemish composers of status who also opened Flemish music to new expressive worlds, mainly Impressionism that informs much of their late music, although both were and remained post-romantic composers at heart. De Boeck’s splendid Symphony in G is reasonably well-known, but other important facets of his sizeable and varied output are still too little-known. He consistently composed songs and vocal works throughout his career including several operas (e.g. Winternachtsdroom available on Phaedra 92025). His numerous songs either on Flemish poems or French words, often exist either with piano accompaniment or with orchestra; but they, too, are highly effective when heard with piano accompaniment as is amply demonstrated by this recording of his seven songs on French words by Jeanne Cuisinier. She wrote these poems when she was twenty or so, and de Boeck set five of them when the ink was hardly dry. De Boeck’s first five settings actually date from 1911-1912, whereas two more settings were composed in 1915. These are marvellous settings in the vein of Duparc, Fauré or Chausson, with an occasional glance towards Debussy, so no wonder that Ravel is reported to have appreciated some of them. 

Nina Stemme was a name new to me; but, after receiving this release, I realised that she has also recorded for Chandos and had taken part in another Phaedra release, entirely devoted to Mortelmans, this time (Phaedra 92033). I loved her warm voice that sounds to me as more a mezzo-soprano voice than a soprano voice, and I admired her dedication to the music. Moreover, her French diction is really excellent. Again, she is superbly partnered by Jozef de Beenhouwer, one of Belgium’s finest pianists and most distinguished accompanists and chamber musicians. Yes, I enjoyed this release enormously and recommend it wholeheartedly. 

Hubert Culot 


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