responsible for choosing the recordings to issue on the
Wigmore Hall Live label have already established a reputation
for consistent discernment. This latest release, featuring
the late-lamented Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, is a further
example of this excellent taste. To the best of my knowledge
Miss Hunt Lieberson is, to date, the only soloist to whom
more than one release has been devoted in this series.
A marvellous 1998 recital was issued on CD a couple of
years ago and was very rightly lauded
Patrick Waller in his Reviewer’s Log at that time.
present recital very logically brings together lieder
Brahms and Schumann. In his excellent booklet note, Richard
Stokes describes the Op. 57 songs as “undeniably the most
overtly sensual of [Brahms’s] output”. It seems to me that
Lorraine Hunt Lieberson’s voice is ideally suited to them.
Her singing of the first song, ‘Von waldbekränzter Höhe’ is
full of longing. Even better is the third song, ‘Es träumte
mir’, a beautiful setting in which she conveys the vulnerability
and regret of the poem in a very moving piece of singing.
poems were written by a man, Georg Friedrich Daumer (1800-1875),
and several of the texts are clearly addressed by a man
to a woman. One such is ‘In meiner Nächte Sehnen’ but,
issues of gender notwithstanding, Miss Hunt Lieberson’s
performance is wholly convincing. The seventh song, ‘Die
Schnur, die Perl’ an Perle’ is also a man’s text, but this
particular woman sings it superbly; listen in particular
to the way she delivers the very last cadence, so delicate
and longing. The most erotic and the longest song is the
last one, ‘Unbewegte, laue Luft’. This is almost Straussian
at the start and the stillness of the marvellously sustained
first four lines is beautifully realised by both performers.
Thereafter the tone becomes more passionate until there’s
a palpable sense of release just before the tranquil ending.
quartet of Schumann songs is equally successful. Though
marvellously expressive, Miss Hunt Lieberson doesn’t neglect
attention to detail in her interpretation. Thus, in the
first song, ‘Kennst du das Land?’ she’s audibly alive to
Schumann’s instruction in the second and third stanzas,
to sing “with mounting expression”. In the following song
the sorrow of the abducted Mignon is achingly conveyed
while ‘Heiss mich nicht reden’ receives an intense, vivid
I hope I’ve conveyed, each of the first two groups in this
recital is excellent. However with Frauenliebe und –leben
come to a performance that is more than touched by greatness.
I love the simple, inward delivery of ‘Seit ich ihn gesehen’.
Just as winning is the bright-eyed eagerness with which
she invests ‘Er, der Herrlichste von allen’.
Ring an meinem Finger’ begins with moving simplicity. However,
after the quietly intense delivery of the first three stanzas,
the fourth stanza, which begins with the words “Ich will
ihm dienen, ihm leben, ihm angehören ganz” (“I shall serve
him, live for him, belong to him wholly”), offers a wonderful
demonstration of the commitment and generosity of Miss
Hunt Lieberson’s singing.
could comment, with equal enthusiasm, on each song but
I’ll content myself just with a mention of the last one. ‘Nun
hast du mir den ersten Schmerz getan’’ is intensely moving
as this singer conveys the pain of irrevocable separation.
The singing is searing in its intensity yet exquisitely
controlled and the last verse is amazingly withdrawn. In
a performance such as this Schumann’s master-stroke of
reprising the music of the very first song in the piano
postlude comes across with additional poignancy – and especially
so when rendered with the sort of sensitivity shown by
the admirable Julius Drake. After hearing her spellbinding
rendition of this song I wondered, not for the first time,
if there is an off-air recording somewhere of Lorraine
Hunt Lieberson in Das Lied von der Erde
. That could
be a devastating experience.
is, quite simply, one of the finest, most eloquent accounts
of Frauenliebe und –leben
that I have ever heard
or expect to hear. As a musical and emotional experience
it’s fit to be bracketed with readings such as those by
Brigitte Fassbaender and Dame Janet Baker. In some ways
I’d esteem it more highly; partly because it’s a live interpretation
caught on the wing and partly because Miss Hunt Lieberson,
while matching, though not mimicking, the insights of those
great artists possesses a sensuality in her voice that
they can’t quite emulate.
are two encores. The Debussy piece brings a welcome injection
of gaiety. And then comes the Handel. At this point I will
cease commentary and merely say, hear this for yourself – but
don’t be surprised if your eyes are moist at the end!
feel guilty that I’ve only mentioned the playing of Julius
Drake fleetingly. Even in the presence of such a magnificent
soloists that’s grossly unfair for his playing throughout
the recital is subtle, alive and full of nuance. This recital
is a true partnership and he contributes massively to its
artistic success. The recording, which originates from
the BBC, is excellent and the documentation is first class.
more I hear of Lorraine Hunt Lieberson the more convinced
I become that her untimely death was as grievous a loss
to music as those of artists such as Dennis Brain, Ginette
Neveu and Guido Cantelli. This superlative recital disc
demands to be heard by all who prize great singing. Many
fine discs come one’s way as a reviewer but just occasionally
one comes along that it is a privilege to review. This
is one such.