I discovered Amy Beach last year, when I heard a disc of her piano
music played by Kirsten Johnson (see review
Indeed, I was impressed enough to nominate that recording as one
of my picks for 2009, prompting me to seek out more of her output.
This Phoenix disc is particularly intriguing, not least because
it features the Berlin-born soprano Jörg Waschinski. Described
in the CD booklet as a ‘counter-specialist’ he has
already garnered much praise in Europe, not just in Baroque repertoire
but, less conventionally, in more modern roles usually assigned
to female sopranos. One such example is the part of Anna I, in
Kurt Weill’s Seven Deadly Sins.
Potential purchasers of this disc may already have some of these
songs sung by Emma Kirkby and others, but this new recital is
more comprehensive than most. I suspect the sticking point - if
there is one - will be the presence of a male soprano, whose distinctive
vocal characteristics may not find universal appeal. No such qualms
about the Meininger Trio, who provide warmly sympathetic support
throughout, or about the recording, which is detailed and very
well balanced. Instrumentally, the opening song, ‘Chanson
d’amour’, is a model of clarity and line; vocally,
though, the line is less assured, and Waschinski’s diction
is far from clear. That said, he has remarkable range and does
colour and his voice rather well.
‘Caprice’ and ‘Pastorale’ are the first
of several non-vocal pieces here, and they offer tantalising glimpses
of the melodic and harmonic confidence I first heard in Kirsten
Johnson’s disc. Both the playing and recording are beyond
reproach. But this is essentially a vocal recital, Waschinski
suitably limpid in ‘Rendezvous’ and ‘Ecstasy’.
He is able to negotiate the higher notes with precision, although
it’s impossible to disguise the ‘gear changes’
as he soars ever higher. Make no mistake, though, this is a phenomenal
voice, and I can well imagine it being put to spectacular use
in Baroque repertoire.
Waschinski finds a wonderful sense of repose at the end of Oliver
Wendell Holmes’s ‘Hymn of Trust’, but in ‘The
year’s at the spring’, the first of the Op. 44 Browning
songs, his undeniable passion and vigour are undermined by poor
articulation. By this time I had adjusted to his unmistakable
timbre, but I was also beginning to wish for more light and shade.
True, the lullaby ‘Sleep, little darling’ is most
affecting, but I found myself listening more to Rainer Gepp’s
delectable piano playing. Indeed, I’d be keen to hear the
latter in Schubert, Schumann and Wolf, where his rhythmic sense
and subtle phrasing would be especially welcome.
‘Fairy lullaby’, the first of the Op. 37 Shakespeare
settings, is a sparky little tune, and Waschinski characterises
it quite well, although the swooning manner he adopts in ‘O
mistress mine’ is much less appealing. Wisely, perhaps,
he takes a break for a while as the cello and piano take over
for ‘La captive’, ‘Berceuse’ and ‘Mazurka’.
And after admiring Gepp’s pianism I must commend Françoise
Groben’s elegant - and eloquent - cello playing, especially
in the gentle ‘Berceuse’. And it’s all enhanced
by a fine, airy recording.
Waschinski calibrates the meltingly beautiful ‘After’
with great sensitivity - listen to that long held note at the
close - and one simply has to marvel at the agility of his voice
in ‘June’. That said, the nature of his instrument
and the range of these songs exposes an occluded tone, especially
under pressure, that doesn’t appeal to me at all. ’Stella
Viatoris’ does indeed push him too far, and for a brief
moment he comes perilously close to a squawk.
So, a somewhat frustrating recital redeemed by fine playing and
resourceful singing. One could argue that Waschinski just isn’t
suited to this music, but there are moments of real beauty here.
No, the biggest problem for me is poor diction, which robs these
songs of their distinctive character. That’s not to say
Waschinski isn’t expressive - he most certainly is - but
that just isn’t enough in texts as wide-ranging as these.
Full marks to Phoenix Edition for providing the lyrics in English
and German, but more information about the songs themselves would
have been useful.
An intriguing project, but ultimately rather disappointing.
3 Songs, Op. 21
No. 1 Chanson d'amour [5:57]
2 Songs, Op. 100
No. 1 A Mirage [2:46]
Pastorale, Op. 151
Rendezvous, Op. 120
3 Songs, Op. 19
No. 2 Ecstasy [2:07]
Hymn of Trust, Op. 13
3 Browning Songs, Op. 44
No. 1 The year's at the spring [00:59]
No. 2 Ah, love but a day [2:55]
No. 3 I send my heart up to thee [3:05]
4 Songs, Op. 35
No. 1 Nacht [2:09]
4 Songs, Op. 29
No. 3 Sleep, little darling
The rainy day
2 Songs, Op. 73
No. 2 Der Totenkranz [2:39]
3 Shakespeare Songs, Op. 37
No. 3 Fairy Lullaby [2:11]
No. 1 O mistress mine [2:33]
3 Compositions, Op. 40
(version for cello and piano) (1898)
No. 1 La captive [3:10]
No. 2 Berceuse [2:42]
No. 3 Mazurka [2:55]
After, Op. 68
4 Songs, Op. 51
No. 3 June [2:03]
2 Songs, Op. 100
No. 2 Stella Viatoris [3:20]