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Johannes BRAHMS (1833–1897)
Die schöne Magelone, Op. 33 (1861–1869) [55:26]
Paul Mow (tenor); Eric Malson (piano)
rec. Town Hall, New York City, 7, 10, 11, 17 May 2006
LYRICHORD LYRCD-6007 [55:26]

 


Recordings of Brahms’ Die schöne Magelone are few and far between and they are rarities in the concert halls too. As Eric Malson says in his notes, this is not due to the quality of the music but rather that the songs do not constitute a satisfying cycle in themselves. When integrated into Ludwig Tieck’s novella they can also seem unwieldy. This has been done, however, both in concert and on discs. I seem to remember a Hermann Prey recording on Orfeo some twenty years ago. I believe Fischer-Dieskau also recorded them that way. This would, however imply an extra CD and that is an extravagance no record company would indulge in today. The songs are in Brahms’ finest vein and are also enjoyable when heard separately. They offer many opportunities to pick and choose; one will not always want to listen to them straight through. On these grounds this disc should be an attractive addition to anyone’s lieder collection, provided the performances are good.

The young American tenor Paul Mow makes a brave effort with these not always easy-to-bring-off songs and he is excellently partnered by Eric Malson. The piano has a little too much air around it in the obviously generous acoustics of New York’s Town Hall, resulting in a somewhat hazy sound. However the venue was probably chosen to suit the singer’s voice, which is at least halfway into the heldentenor fach. He has already taken on roles such as Don José, Bacchus in Ariadne auf Naxos, Max in Der Freischütz and even Tristan. These are not the credentials one expects of a Brahms singer, even though many of his predecessors have also sung Lieder, sometimes with excellent results: Swedish Wagnerian Helge Brilioth, for example. Further back in history both Lauritz Melchior and Leo Slezak sang lieder, the latter especially with great success.

Paul Mow isn’t exactly in this league as yet. His is certainly a voice with dramatic potential but for the time being he does not have it under ideal control. It has a pinched quality up on high and at forte; even below, his tone tends to coarsen. There is no denying a certain thrill as in the dramatic So tönet denn, schäumende Wellen (tr. 10) where Malson provides excellent ‘foaming waves’. There is power in abundance but a lack of refinement. His German isn’t faultless either, some vowels disturbingly occluded. Listen to his open ‘a’ as in ‘alle’ which is more like the English ‘a’ in ‘all’.

On the other hand he can scale down to beautiful lyricism and there are several songs that are sung softly and with a fine inward quality: Durch die Dämmerung (tr. 3), especially the second stanza, is one instance. Ruhe, Süssliebchen, im Schatten (tr. 9) also seems deeply felt. Fortunately there are enough songs that belong in this category to make the disc worthwhile. In general however there is too little variation in tone and expression, which makes the end-result rather two-dimensional; a rough-hewn charcoal-drawing as opposed to shimmering water-colours. Some of the best singing, comes in the last song Treue Liebe dauert lange where, if not a full-colour aquarelle, one can easily imagine a mezzo-tint.

Good intentions, no doubt, and one day Mow might be a consummate lieder artist. Had I encountered this performance in a recital hall I would probably have been quite satisfied. A disc that one is supposed to hear over and over again is a different matter. When scrutinizing the singing through a reviewer’s magnifying glass expectations are only partly fulfilled.

Full texts and translations into English and there are artists’ bios and personal notes from both artists.

Göran Forsling 

 

 


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