Franciscus List, as was his name written in the birth register
in the village church at Unterfrauenhaid, was enormously prolific
as composer - more than 700 works - and yet he spent many years
hailed as piano virtuoso and conductor. In his vast output it
is the instrumental and orchestral music that dominates, but he
also wrote a not inconsiderable number of vocal works, including
more than seventy solo songs. Some of them are frequently heard,
like the Victor Hugo setting Oh! Quand je dors and Goethe’s
Über allen Gipfeln ist Ruh - the two songs that open and
close this recital. Though stylistically firmly rooted in French
Romanticism Franz Liszt was a true cosmopolitan. This is also
mirrored in his choice of poetry for his songs. He set French,
German, Italian, English, Russian and Hungarian texts, and this
pluralism became the starting point for the present disc, Liszt
Though there is no shortage of recordings of Liszt’s
songs, all-Liszt recitals are relatively rare. In my collection
there are only two, both on LP: Hildegard Behrens on DG and
Swedish mezzo-soprano Sylvia Lindenstrand on Polar, a record
that I believe was mainly available in Scandinavia. Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau recorded Liszt songs, also
for DG, some of which I have on a compilation disc, and for
the same company Brigitte Fassbaender coupled Liszt and Richard
Strauss, which for a long time has been my favourite.
This new disc has the potential to become the new favourite
- and not only for the cosmopolitan programme, but for the
singing of the three soloists. They have been cleverly chosen
to suit their respective songs. Rebecca Evans sings the two
favourites that frame the rest of the programme, as well as
the three Petrarch Sonnets, Better known perhaps as
piano pieces but wonderful songs in their own right. She has
a beautiful, light soprano, employed with taste and musicality,
singing long lines with sensitive phrasing, and her pianissimos
are simply ravishing. Just listen to the Sonnet 123
(tr. 10), where she spins a spider-web thin thread of tone.
Matthew Rose’s dramatic bass - the cover says baritone
but this is a true bass - is cut out for the powerful songs,
where the bolero Gastibelza is truly magnificent. The
gothic atmosphere of Die Vätergruft is also well caught.
The sole Russian poem, Lermontov’s V minutu zhizni trudnuju,
is sung with the dark intensity of a Boris Christoff or,
in more present time, Sergei Leiferkus - and he sings more
beautifully than either. Ein Fichtenbaum is dark and
threatening, and Und wir dachten an der Toten - Liszt’s
last song, is spine-chilling.
Andrew Kennedy’s plangent tone and keen delivery is also
a pleasure to listen to, though his fortes tend to be rather
hard. Heine’s Die Loreley, no doubt one of Liszt’s
finest songs, is sung with fine sense for nuances, and the
only English setting, Tennyson’s Go not, happy day
is well vocalized. He also sings the sole Hungarian song,
Isten veled!, beautifully and as far as I can tell,
idiomatically. Heine’s Du bist wie eine Blume, which
also Schumann set memorably, is beautifully melodious and
draws some of the best singing from Kennedy.
We shouldn’t forget Iain Burnside. Not only is he a responsive
accompanist on a level with Malcolm Martineau, Roger Vignoles
and Julius Drake, to mention three leading compatriots, but
as far as I understand he is also the mastermind behind the
programming and also the author of the excellent liner notes.
The recording is excellent and with a playing time of
almost 80 minutes we are offered a lot of music for our money.
Signum can be congratulated on another five star disc, which
should be heard by every lover of songs.