Aureole etc.




Golden Age singers

Nimbus on-line




If it’s the Czech works you’re after, do not hesitate

  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett


CD REVIEW

Some items
to consider

 


New App by the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra for iOS and Android!


BAX Orchestral pieces


CASKEN Violin Concerto

Schumann Symphonies Rattle


Complete Brahms
Bargain price

 

alternatively
Crotchet

 

Flagstad sings Brahms and Mahler
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Vier ernste Gesänge op.121 (1896) [17:54] (1)
Gustav MAHLER (1860-1911)
Kindertotenlieder (1901-4) [27:58] (2)
Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen (1883-1896) [16:00] (2)
Kirsten Flagstad (soprano)
Edwin McArthur (piano) (1)
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra/Sir Adrian Boult (2)
rec. August 1956, Decca Studios, Broadhurst Gardens, West Hampstead, London (1), 17-21 May 1957, Sofiensaal, Vienna (2)
BEULAH 1PD28 [61:52]

Experience Classicsonline


It is a fairly established “rule” that, while opera and oratorio arias are written for specific voice-types and are sung only by those voice-types, music for voice and piano – lieder, mélodies and so on – may be transposed up or down to suit the singer. Most of Brahms’s songs were issued in two or three keys during his lifetime as a matter of course. Just occasionally a composer felt more strongly about the matter. In Brahms’s case, op. 121 was described in the title as “Four Serious Songs for Low Voice and Piano”. By and large his wishes have been respected. In this performance the songs are put up a minor third.

Oddly enough, this affects the piano more than the voice. By this time in her career Flagstad was no longer young and had retired from the operatic stage. Her voice, always powerful and solid, had a dark quality, something like a contralto but with a soprano range. As a result the voice does not sound “wrong” the way a more typical soprano lieder singer – such as Schwarzkopf or Seefried – would. We can still appreciate her fail-safe intonation and generally rock-steady delivery. Just occasionally the notes of her passaggio – Fs and Gs – seem a tad queasy, but above there the As and the one B flat are still splendidly firm. If she doesn’t convey to me quite the frisson I get from Kathleen Ferrier in these songs, I think it is the old story of the prevalently operatic singer being a bit generalized in her expression when it comes to lieder.

And so to the piano. The problem is admittedly endemic to vocal chamber music. Imagine playing your favourite Brahms piano pieces a third higher than written and trying to give them the same body of sound they have in the original key. Or playing them a third down and trying not to make them sound any grumpier than they do as written. The pianist working in the lieder field is continually up against this problem. But somehow, maybe because we’re not used to hearing these particular songs in a range of keys, maybe because Brahms himself gave freer rein to his pianistic fantasy than usual under the assumption that the music would not be transposed, these particular songs emerge with reduced impact. It doesn’t help that the piano is a little backwardly placed, as mono recordings tended to be in those days, though the Ferrier is worse from that point of view. McArthur is playing splendidly but the backdrop of Brahmsian richness is missing.

With orchestral accompaniment Flagstad’s voice seems in its natural habitat. But there is the question of the transpositions here, too. It is the general “rule” that orchestral songs, like operatic arias, are sung in the original keys, and that you don’t transpose these two Mahler cycles up a third for soprano any more than you would transpose R. Strauss’s “Four Last Songs” down a third for contralto.

Here, as in Brahms, the problem proves not to be the voice. The richness and gravity of Flagstad’s timbre actually convince the ear that it is listening to a lower voice. But then there is the orchestra. Quite apart from the work involved in copying out new parts, just imagine, also in this instance, your favourite romantic symphonies being played a third higher than written. The bass would be lightened and many of the wind solos would be shifted up from a “convenient” to a “difficult” register of the instrument. It says much for the Vienna Philharmonic that, apart from occasional signs of strain from the horns, they make the music convincingly sound as if it had been written that way.

The apparent eccentricity of carting Boult out to Vienna to record Mahler is belied by the remarkable artistic collaboration that emerges. We know from Boult’s Beethoven, Brahms and Elgar that he was something of a master of the free-flowing slow movement, swift and un-indulgent alongside many of his colleagues. His Brahms “Alto Rhapsody” with Janet Baker is a celebrated case, one of the fastest on record. His Mahler is a less well-known factor. The tempi here are among the slowest I’ve heard. This helps to restore the gravity that the upward transpositions might have taken away. What I didn’t expect was to find Boult so idiomatic in his handling of the sadly trudging bass-lines and the halting movement, the sensation of holding back the music and then releasing it as the harmonies change, so typical of Mahler. This goes beyond mere “good accompanying”. Nor can it be explained away by saying the Vienna Philharmonic had this style in their bloodstream, for they notoriously didn’t provide it for just anyone. The same may be said of the transparent textures and restrained yet tangy wind solos. In any case, listen to the many passages where the orchestra takes over from the voice, and vice versa, and you have to be impressed by the total unity into which singer, conductor and orchestra have been forged, and that can only have come from the rostrum.

As to the interpretations, I found “Kindertotenlieder” memorable for its sense of numbed desolation, while “Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen” is dewy-eyed as befits youth, yet also with a sense of unease, of impending tragedy. For the reasons I have given, this cannot really be a first choice. That must be made from among the many fine versions that use the original keys. But equally, committed Mahlerians can hardly leave it out of the reckoning. The recording is excellent for the date. Decca’s own transfers were perhaps more usefully coupled with Wagner’s “Wesendonck-Lieder” under Knappertsbusch, but this disc seems to have been deleted.

Christopher Howell 


 


 




 


Gerard Hoffnung CDs

Advertising on
Musicweb


Donate and get a free CD

New Releases

Naxos Classical

Hyperion

Musicweb sells the following labels
Acte Préalable
Alto
Arcodiva
Atoll
CDAccord
Cameo Classics
Centaur
Hallé
Hortus
Lyrita
Nimbus
Northern Flowers
Redcliffe
Sheva
Talent
Toccata Classics


Follow us on Twitter

Subscribe to our free weekly review listing
sample
 


EXPLORE MUSICWEB INTERNATIONAL

Making a Donation to MusicWeb

Writing CD reviews for MWI

About MWI
Who we are, where we have come from and how we do it.

Site Map

How to find a review

How to find articles on MusicWeb
Listed in date order

Review Indexes
   By Label
      Select a label and all reviews are listed in Catalogue order
   By Masterwork
            Links from composer names (eg Sibelius) are to resource pages with links to the review indexes for the individual works as well as other resources.

Themed Review pages

Jazz reviews

 

Discographies
   Composer
      Composer surveys
   National
      Unique to MusicWeb -
a comprehensive listing of all LP and CD recordings of given works
.
Prepared by Michael Herman

The Collector’s Guide to Gramophone Company Record Labels 1898 - 1925
Howard Friedman

Book Reviews

Complete Books
We have a number of out of print complete books on-line

Interviews
With Composers, Conductors, Singers, Instumentalists and others
Includes those on the Seen and Heard site

Nostalgia

Nostalgia CD reviews

Records Of The Year
Each reviewer is given the opportunity to select the best of the releases

Monthly Best Buys
Recordings of the Month and Bargains of the Month

Comment
Arthur Butterworth Writes

An occasional column

Phil Scowcroft's Garlands
British Light Music articles

Classical blogs
A listing of Classical Music Blogs external to MusicWeb International

Reviewers Logs
What they have been listening to for pleasure

Announcements

 

Community
Bulletin Board

Give your opinions or seek answers

Reviewers
Pat and present

Helpers invited!

Resources
How Did I Miss That?

Currently suspended but there are a lot there with sound clips


Composer Resources

British Composers

British Light Music Composers

Other composers

Film Music (Archive)
Film Music on the Web (Closed in December 2006)

Programme Notes
For concert organizers

External sites
British Music Society
The BBC Proms
Orchestra Sites
Recording Companies & Retailers
Online Music
Agents & Marketing
Publishers
Other links
Newsgroups
Web News sites etc

PotPourri
A pot-pourri of articles

MW Listening Room
MW Office

Advice to Windows Vista users  
Questionnaire    
Site History  
What they say about us
What we say about us!
Where to get help on the Internet
CD orders By Special Request
Graphics archive
Currency Converter
Dictionary
Magazines
Newsfeed  
Web Ring
Translation Service

Rules for potential reviewers :-)
Do Not Go Here!
April Fools




Return to Review Index

Untitled Document


Reviews from previous months
Join the mailing list and receive a hyperlinked weekly update on the discs reviewed. details
We welcome feedback on our reviews. Please use the Bulletin Board
Please paste in the first line of your comments the URL of the review to which you refer.