Amy BEACH (1867-1944)
Rendezvous: Love songs
See end of review for track listing
Jörg Waschinski (soprano); Meininger Trio (Christiane Meininger (flute); Françoise Groben (cello); Rainer Gepp (piano))
rec. 28 July-1 August 2008, Studio Gärtnerstrasse, Berlin, Germany. Song texts included
I discovered Amy Beach last year, when I heard a disc of her piano music played by Kirsten Johnson - 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.
Dan Morgan 

Track listing
3 Songs, Op. 21 (1893)
No. 1 Chanson d'amour [5:57]
2 Songs, Op. 100 (1924)
No. 1 A Mirage [2:46]
Caprice (1921) [1:00]
Pastorale, Op. 151 (1942) [3:20]
Rendezvous, Op. 120 (1928) [4:46]
3 Songs, Op. 19 (1893)
No. 2 Ecstasy [2:07]
Hymn of Trust, Op. 13 (1891) [3:47]
3 Browning Songs, Op. 44 (1900)
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 (1896)
No. 1 Nacht [2:09]
4 Songs, Op. 29 (1894)
No. 3 Sleep, little darling[4:03]
The rainy day (1880) [2:05]
2 Songs, Op. 73 (?1914)
No. 2 Der Totenkranz [2:39]
3 Shakespeare Songs, Op. 37 (excerpts) (1897)
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 (?1907) [3:31]
4 Songs, Op. 51 (?1903)
No. 3 June [2:03]
2 Songs, Op. 100 (1924)
No. 2 Stella Viatoris [3:20]