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Visions Intérieures: The Developing Song Cycle
CD1 The Early German Song Cycle
Conradin KREUTZER (1780-1849) Wander Lieder (1818) [18:46]
Peter CORNELIUS (1824-1874) Brautlieder (1856-9) [15:05]
Sigmund THALBERG (1812-1871) 6 Deutsche Lieder (1833) [14:12]
Adolf JENSEN (1837-1879) 7 Gesänge aus dem Spanischen Liederbuch, Op 4 (1860) [17:27]
Carl Maria von WEBER (1786-1826) Die Temperamente be idem Verluste der Geliebten, Op 46 (1816) [13:19]
Georgine Resick (soprano), Andrew Willis (fortepiano)
rec. Music School of the University of North Carolina, May-July 2003
CD2 The Wanderer: The Song Cycle in Migration
Jean CRAS (1879-1932) Robaiyat de Omar Khayyam (1924) [9:16]
Karol SZYMANOWSKI (1882-1937) Bunte Lieder, Op 22 (1910) [11:14]
César CUI (1835-1918) 4 Sonnets, Op 48 (1892) [10:31]
Arthur HONEGGER (1892-1955) 3 Chansons, Extraites de "La Petite Sirène" (1926) [2:27]
Ture RANGSTRÕM (1884-1947) Hafvets sommar (1915) [18:38]
Gian Francesco MALIPIERO (1882-1937) Keepsake (1918) [5:01]
Emile PALADILHE (1844-1926) Feuilles au vent (Second Series, 1910) [19:26]
Georgine Resick (soprano), Warren Jones (piano)
rec. Music School of the University of North Carolina, June 2003. DDD
BRIDGE 9168A/B [78:49 + 74:43]



 

The premise for this enterprising and extremely well-filled two-disc set from Bridge is that the history and variety of the song-cycle is deeper and more complex than received and critical opinion often has it.

As soprano Georgine Resick comments in her booklet note, the "first true example of the song-cycle form is generally agreed to be Ludwig van Beethoven’s An die ferne Geliebte, composed in 1816." But as she rightly points out, song sets and groups of linked or inter-related songs - whether or not one cares to dignify them with the term song-cycle - date back to the time of Monteverdi in the early seventeenth century at least, almost two centuries earlier. "Beethoven’s cycle was innovative," she continues, "in that it was composed with transitional musical material leading from one song to the next, requiring an uninterrupted performance" by the performers, in this case one singer and one pianist. Resick also aims to widen the reach of the form beyond Schubert’s and Schumann’s masterly sets, which have eclipsed later developments.

Her set seeks to start redressing the balance with twelve cycles of varying lengths, types and formats from composers from France to Russia, concentrating on works that are, at least nowadays, forgotten or neglected. Her selection is certainly individual, though the overly critical may find the absence of a cycle dating from before An die ferne Geliebte weakens part of her argument.

The first disc is devoted to "The Early German Song Cycle" and is intended to highlight the variety of the genre outside the output of those composers already mentioned. Cornelius Kreutzer’s Wander Lieder rightly leads the way, not quite the earliest work on the disc but one which arguably had a great impact on Schubert. The texts, of Ludwig Uhland’s seminal poems of wandering youth, are also vital in making this an influential cycle. As a template for the genre it is demonstrably as important as Beethoven’s. One can hear resonances of it in the cycles of Mahler and Britten not least - whose song sets are presumably too well known to feature here. With a musical language that seems to fuse late Mozartian charm with early Romantic ardour, the nine songs of Wander Lieder — only one of which is available in a rival version — are full of appeal, nowhere more so than in the very first, Lebewohl. Even earlier is the concluding item on Disc 1, Weber’s Die Temperamente bei dem Verluste der Geliebten. This is a vivid set of near operatic character studies for Der Freischutz - which would follow soon afterwards - based on the old notion of the four temperaments. This type of set was already old in Weber’s day; Resick calls it a "four-affect song cycle". His treatment of it is far from reverential, infusing considerable humour into his four character-type sketches of sanguine, melancholic, choleric and phlegmatic men who have lost their lovers.

In between these two highly different works lie three of varying quality from the middle decades of the nineteenth century, two of them post-dating the end of Schumann’s creative period. Sigmund Thalberg was, alongside Liszt, the pre-eminent pianist of the time and a respected composer. His 6 Deutsche Lieder are early, written when he was 21, and set poems by Heine. The cycle illustrates his strengths as a composer. The songs - the only ones of his currently available - are well crafted, especially the accompaniments as one would expect from a pianist. The set as a whole is well-proportioned but also highlights why his music fell into deep neglect in the twentieth century: there is no really distinct voice here, nothing that says ‘This is Thalberg’ in the way that the music of Liszt or Wagner does. More individual are the six numbers of Peter Cornelius’s Brautlieder (1856-9) however deep in the shadow of Schumann, as well as Liszt and Wagner, they lie. Cornelius wrote his own texts which may account for the way music and words fit together like a hand in glove. The Brautlieder is also unusual for a cycle of love songs at this time, although musings on love might be a better description, in that they were written not just for a woman to sing but present a woman’s perspective, an idea no doubt derived from Schumann and Frauenlieben und -Leben. So too does the final cycle of the first disc, Adolf Jensen’s 7 Gesänge aus dem Spanischen Liederbuch. Jensen too was a fervent admirer of Schumann, Liszt and Wagner and like Thalberg wrote a number of song-cycles. The poems come from the same collection made famous in lieder circles by Wolf at the end of the nineteenth century and again present a female view, though rather more unhappily as the subject concerns her ill-fated affair with a soldier. Jensen’s settings are at their best when more reflective — such as the concluding Dereinst, Gedanke mein, wirst ruhig sein or the fourth number, Sie blasen zum Abmarsch with its prominent but curious allusion to the scherzo of Beethoven’s Fifth — rather than in more histrionic numbers like the sixth, Es rauben Gedanken den Schlaf mir whose quasi-operatic nature misfires.

The second disc casts its net much wider geographically — with cycles from France, Poland, Russia, Switzerland, Sweden and Italy — though not in time. All seven date from between 1892 (Cui) and 1926 (Honegger) as opposed to the 44-year difference between the Weber and Jensen songs on Disc A. Culturally, the journey Resick takes through these songs is more complicated still. Jean Cras — a disciple of Duparc who emerges as a lost impressionist — set translations into French of Persian originals in the five songs of his Robaiyat de Omar Khayyam; Honegger did likewise in his three "La Petite Sirène" Chansons but from Hans Christian Andersen’s Danish. Malipiero’s brief triptych Keepsake has an English title, as do the individual songs, and sets three poems of longing in French by Jean-Aubry, creating an intimate yet uneasy atmosphere. The Four Sonnets by Russian-born César Cui — of French and Lithuanian extraction — have texts in Polish, while the Pole Karol Szymanowski set a variety of German poets in his exhilarating Bunte Lieder, a product of his short-lived Germanophile period. Only Ture Rangström (Swedish) and Emile Paladilhe (French) stick to their own tongue!

So how does Georgine Resick make her way through this modern-day Babel? Well, the four different languages pose no problems for her in terms of diction. This is no surprise as she speaks — according to her biography — five languages and sings in five more. By the way the back cover erroneously proclaims that she sings here in five languages. Ms Resick does indeed sing on these discs in German, French, Polish and Swedish but not in Italian.

A noted Mozart performer Ms Resick’s voice seems best suited to the lighter lyric cycles by Kreutzer, Cornelius, Cras and Paladilhe, while Thalberg’s and Cui’s sit very comfortably for her also. She clearly relishes the melodramatic opportunities afforded by Weber’s temperamental studies as well as Honegger’s miniatures. Some of the fuller textures of a number of the Jensen songs find her in less convincing form and her voice tends to the shrill in some of the more exposed high writing, as in the second (Solstänk) of Rangström’s ten-song group. However, she carries off the sweep and range of Szymanowski’s Bunte Lieder - one of the few to have a currently available alternative recording, on Channel Classics - with skill. On the whole she has the measure of the marvellous Rangström cycle. Why this last, with its strong affinities to Sibelius, is not better known is a mystery, but the same could be said of almost all the cycles here, most particularly those by Kreutzer, Cornelius, Szymanowski, Cui and Paladilhe. This last is perhaps the most disarming of all the works gathered here, a collection of apparently disparate musings on various mostly natural subjects that at first seemed to border on the trite. It is also the longest of the sets, although it could be argued it is but part of a larger composition. It at first struck me as a curious conclusion to the programme. However, I warmed to its subtle charms on repeated hearings and there is no denying the composer’s genius for wistful melody. In fact, it makes the perfect finale.

I should add a word or two on the two excellent accompanists. On Disc A, Andrew Willis plays a copy by Neupert of a Dulcken fortepiano in the Kreutzer and Weber cycles, an instrument which sounds wholly authentic and splendidly so. I prefer it rather to the 1841 Bösendorfer grand which he uses for the Cornelius, Thalberg and Jensen sets; in this last it achieves an almost honky-tonk tone which I found a touch distracting. His playing of both instruments is exemplary as is that of Warren Jones on a modern piano, a Steinway D for those interested in such things, for Disc B’s stylistically much more diverse fare. Bridge’s recordings, engineered by Dennis Hopson (Disc A) and Judith Sherman (Disc B) are close without being claustrophobic, clear without being over-bright. Given the unusual repertoire, the fine level of performance and production, this is a very desirable issue.


Guy Rickards

 


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