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Barbara Hendricks - Wolf Lieder and Nordic Songs
Hugo WOLF (1860 – 1903)
CD 1

Mörike-Lieder
1. 20. Auf eine Christblume I (Tochter des Walds) [6:02]
2. 21. Auf eine Christblume II (Im Winterboden schläft) [1:59]
3. 45. Nixe Binsefuss [2:23]
4. 25. Schlafendes Jesuskind [3:49]
5. 2. Der Knabe und das Immlein [3:09]
6. 8. Begegnung [1:33]
7. 24. In der Frühe [2:32]
8. 5. Auf einer Wandrung [4:12]
9. 12. Verborgenheit [2:59]
10. 9. Nimmersatte Liebe [2:08]
11. 7. Das verlassene Mägdlein [3:16]
12. 17. Der Gärtner [1:53]
13. 36. Lebe wohl [2:38]
14. 6. Er ist’s [1:40]
Goethe-Lieder
15. 28. Frühling übers Jahr [2:03]
16. 50. Ganymed [5:07]
17. 26. Die Spröde [2:15]
18. 27. Die Bekehrte [3:09]
19. 5. Mignon I (Heiß mich nicht reden) [4:11]
20. 6. Mignon II (Nur wer die Sehnsucht kennt) [2:07]
21. 7. Mignon III (So laßt mich scheinen) [3:25]
22. 8. Philine (Singet nicht in Trauertönen) [3:03]
23. 9. Mignon (Kennst du das Land) [6:32]
CD 2

Carl NIELSEN (1865 – 1931)
1. Æbleblomst (Ludwig Holstein) Op. 10 No. 1 (FS18) [1:50]
Strophic Songs (Strofiske Sange) Op. 21 (FS42)
2. Skal Blomsterne da visne? (Helge Rode) Bk.I No. 1 [1:39]
3. Høgen (Jeppe Aakjær) Bk.I No. 2 [1:19]
4. Sæk kun dit Hoved, du Blomst (Johannes Jørgensen) Bk.II No. 1 [1:43]
5. Den første Lærke (Jeppe Aakjær) Bk.II No. 2 [1:15]
6. Studie efter Naturen (Hans Christian Andersen) FS82 [1:26]
Edvard GRIEG (1843 – 1907)
7. Våren (Aasmund Olafsson Vinje) Op. 33 No. 2 [5:32]
8. Med en vandlilje (Henrik Ibsen) Op. 25 No. 4 [1:59]
9. En svane (Henrik Ibsen) Op. 25 No. 2 [2:21]
10. Solveigs Sang (Henrik Ibsen, Peer Gynt Op. 23) [5:12]
11. Solveigs vuggevise (Henrik Ibsen, Peer Gynt Op. 23) [3:59]
12. Jeg elsker dig! (Hans Christian Andersen) Op. 5 No. 3 [1:29]
6 Songs Op. 48
13. I. Gruß (Heinrich Heine) [1:10]
14. II. Dereinst, Gedanke mein (Emanuel Geibel) [2:46]
15. III. Lauf der Welt (Johann Ludwig Uhland) [1:37]
16. IV. Der verschwiegene Nachtigall (Walter van der Vogelweide) [3:26]
17. V. Zur Rosenzeit (Goethe) [3:11]
18. VI. Ein Traum (Friedrich Bodenstedt) [2:21]
Ture RANGSTRÖM (1884 – 1947)
19. Melodi (Bo Bergman) [1:33]
20. Pan (Bo Bergman) [2:36]
21. Afskedet (Bo Bergman) [2:11]
22. Bön till natten (Bo Bergman) [2:29]
23. Vingar i natten (Bo Bergman) [1:21]
Jean SIBELIUS (1865 – 1957)
24. Flickan kom ifrån sin älsklings möte (J.L.Runeberg) Op. 37 No. 5 [3:11]
25. Illalle(A.V.Forsman-Koskimies) Op. 16 No. 6 [1:21]
26. Demanten på marssnön (J.J.Wecksell) Op. 36 No. 6 [2:32]
27. Våren flyktar hastigt (J.L.Runeberg) Op. 13 No. 4 [1:17]
28. Säf, säf, susa (Gustaf Fröding) Op. 36 No. 4 [2:35]
29. Svarta rosor (Ernst Josephson) Op. 36 No. 1 [1:57]
Swedish Folk Song
30. Som stjärnan uppå himmelen så klar [1:34]
Barbara Hendricks (soprano); Roland Pöntinen (piano)
rec. 25-31 October 1999 (CD 2) and 23-27 October 1998; 10-12 January 2002 (CD 1) at Studio Tibor Varga, Sion, Switzerland
EMI CLASSICS 2344142
[72:12 + 69:03]

 

Experience Classicsonline


EMI Classics continue to issue Barbara Hendricks’ song recordings in double-packs at affordable prices. Considering the great number of her admirers this is laudable and gives listeners the opportunity to fill gaps in their collections.
 

Since she first came to notice in the late 1970s I have regarded her as one of the most agreeable of singers. This is not only because of her pleasing personality and deep engagement in humanitarian issues but also because she is the possessor of one of the most beautiful soprano voices to be heard during the last few decades. My first Hendricks record – and I believe it was her first solo recording – was a Gershwin programme on Philips. There she was accompanied by the Labèque sisters. Possibly because of the repertoire I found close similarities with the young Leontyne Price. This was confirmed to some degree when I got out that old LP a while ago and heard it again after more than fifteen years. There is a certain likeness in timbre and in the way she moulds phrases. 

Having heard Barbara Hendricks innumerable times since then – in the flesh but mostly on record – I have come to recognise her voice and have no problems distinguishing it from that of Ms Price. The older singer, as most readers know just as well as I do, has a larger, more rounded and … more flexible voice. Price was able to colour her voice for dramatic or other interpretative purposes. Barbara Hendricks, for all her inherent beauty and deep musicality, is rather monochrome. In certain kinds of music this doesn’t matter very much, as long as it is cleverly employed, but especially in songs – German Lieder, French Mélodies, Nordic Romanser - something more expressive is needed. When she tackles Wolf, the colouring of the voice and the word-painting becomes all-important. 

Let me just pick one example at random. Ganymed was written in the 1770s by a young Goethe as a counterweight to Prometheus. Ganymed is a mythic youngster being seduced by Zeus through the beauty of Spring. Schubert set the same poem. Wolf’s setting is filled with passion. The opening of the poem says, in translation: 

How, in the morning brightness
You illumine around me,
Springtime, Beloved!
With thousandfold love-blisses
The holy sensation
Of your eternal warmth
Presses itself upon my heart,
Unendingly beautiful!
 

The boy is over-brimmed with happiness, joy, warmth and beauty. This is a sensation he has never experienced before and he pours out all his heart. Barbara Hendricks sings it with unerringly beautiful tone, the slight flicker in the voice maybe reducing the flow of the phrases, but it is well-controlled, equalized over the whole register and she nuances exquisitely. The text is also enunciated with care for the word-meaning and the dramatic build-up has an intensity that is impressive. In fact she conveys everything that is in the text. But still there is something missing. Imagine an actor performing a role, all the gestures, all the textual inflexions are there but the facial expressions are neutral. Do we believe in her? Probably not, at least we feel a distance, a kind of half-transparent veil between us and her. A Lieder-singer on the concert platform may use her body-language - even though in some circles this is sniffed at - and her facial expressions, but on disc the only ‘visual’ aspects available are variations of tone, of colour in the voice. It is unfair to say that her vocal ‘face’ is blank but it is Buster Keaton-like. Following the poem on a text-sheet - no such is enclosed in this issue - a musical reading of the song can convey a lot of pleasure. This is musical singing of the utmost excellence. I am sure many listeners will be able to derive a lot of pleasure from this disc – which I did – but that extra dimension, which I persist in calling vocal ‘face’, is largely missing. One will have to go to singers like Schwarzkopf or Seefried or Janet Baker to get a more all-embracing interpretation of the songs. 

Many songs are well executed, in spite of this lack: the lively Nixe Binsefuß for instance, and the inward Schlafendes Jesuskind. Generally speaking she is at her most attractive in the more restrained songs. The Mignon songs are in their own right delightful in their hushed inwardness. But again I miss Schwarzkopf and Seefried. On the other hand Ms Hendricks’ relative objectivity is preferable to the over-emphatic singing that is more aimed at projecting the ego of the singer than illuminating the poems. 

The second CD mirrors Barbara Hendricks’s affection for the Nordic countries – she has been a Swedish citizen these many years – and the repertoire extends beyond the most obvious choices. Carl Nielsen’s vocal output has rarely been exposed outside Scandinavia and Grieg’s 6 Songs Op. 48 to German texts are not among his most frequently heard, bar Ein Traum (CD 2 tr. 18), which is better known, I think, in its Norwegian translation En Drøm. On the other hand the other six Grieg songs belong to those most beloved of the musical public. So do the six by Sibelius. That said, a fatal misspelling the title of Wecksell’s song (CD 2 tr. 26) can lead some readers to believe that it is about some mentally deranged person – ‘dementen’ – walking in March-snow, when it should have been ‘demanten’, which is an old form of ‘diamanten’ = the diamond. The Rangström songs, insofar as they are known at all internationally, are also some of his most performed – and best – songs. 

When it comes to the interpretations my comments on the Wolf disc are generally applicable here as well. There is no denying the care with which she has approached the songs; her deep musicality is everywhere in evidence. The readings are, however, rather generalized. Moreover, as soon as she sings something at forte and above, her tone hardens considerably and the vibrato is widened to such a degree that - at least for this listener - some songs are far from enjoyable. The more restrained songs are another matter. Here her mastery at singing a hushed pianissimo is undiminished and Sænk kun dit Hoved (CD 2 tr. 4) and Studie efter Naturen (CD 2 tr. 6) among the Nielsen songs are quite attractive. Generally speaking these songs are not the most inspired of the Danish master’s output in this genre. The Grieg songs (CD 2 tr. 7-12) on the other hand are masterpieces and even though that hardness of tone and heavy vibrato mar Solveigs Sang and to some extent Jeg elsker dig, she is very good in Våren. She is better still in Med en vandlilje and especially En svane, where her pianissimo is at its most enchanting. The six songs Op. 48 should definitely be heard more often. They all show Grieg at his most inspired and the Uhland setting Lauf der Welt is on a par with his most popularly celebrated songs. 

I have always regarded Ture Rangström’s songs as the best Swedish songs from the generation after Peterson-Berger and Stenhammar. The inward Melodi (CD 2 tr. 19) and stormy Vingar i natten (CD 2 tr. 23) are comparable to anything written during the first half of the 20th century. The Sibelius songs presented here are established masterpieces. I am afraid that at least some of them should be sung by someone with a meatier voice than that of  Barbara Hendricks. Among fairly recent sopranos Soile Isokoski and the Hochdramatisch Kirsi Tiihonen are far preferable. Flickan kom ifrån sin älsklings möte suffers especially. It feels seriously undernourished. 

To end the review on a happier note I am glad to report that the encore, the Swedish folk song Som stjärnan uppå himmelen klar, is ravishingly sung at an extremely beautiful pianissimo. I wish the rest of the songs had been on this exalted level. 

The recordings, spread over a period of four years, cannot be faulted and Roland Pöntinen is a superb accompanist. That the piano part in Flickan kom lacks impact is, as far as I can judge, more due to the lack of bite in the singing than to uninspired playing from Pöntinen. There are no texts and no notes on the music, just a short appreciation entitled Barbara. 

Although everything is musical and sensitive this is a disc primarily for Hendricks fans.

Göran Forsling

 

 


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