Franz LISZT (1811 – 1886)
The Complete Songs – Vol. 1
1. Kling leise, mein Lied, S 301 (LW N42) (Nordmann), first version (1848) [6:19]
2. In Liebeslust, S 318 (LW N56) (Hoffmann von Fallersleben) (1858) [2:20]
3. Wie singt die Lerche schön S 312 (LW N51) (Hoffmann von Fallersleben) second version, (late 1850s) [1:52]
4. Die stille Wasserrose S 321 (LW N59) (Geibel) (1860) [4:14]
Lieder (3) aus Schillers Wilhelm Tell S 292 (LW N32) first version (1845) [14:46]
5. Der Fischerknabe [4:55]
6. Der Hirt [5:55]
7. Der Alpenjäger [3:49]
8. Der Glückliche(Wie glänzt nun die Welt) S 334 (LW N75) (Wilbrandt) (1878) [1:53]
9. Angiolin dal biondo crin S 269 (LW N1) (Boccella) third version (1859?) [5:22]
Tre sonetti di Petrarca S 270 (LW N14) first version (1842 – 1846) [19:20]
10. Pace non trovo [6:50]
11. Benedetto sia ‘l giorno [6:21]
12. I’ vidi in terra angelici costumi [6:01];
13. Bist du (Mild wie ein Lufthauch) (Meshchersky) second version (1879) [5:10]
14. Es rauschen die Winde S 294 (LW N33) (Rellstab) first version (1845) [2:37]
15. Schwebe, schwebe, blaues Auge S 305 (LW N35) (Dingelstedt) second version (1848?) [3:02]
16. Im Rhein, im schönen Strome S 272 (LW N3) (Heine) first version (1840) [2:33]
Matthew Polenzani (tenor), Julius Drake (piano)
rec. All Saints, Durham Road, East Finchley, London, 24-26 February 2010
sung texts with English translations enclosed
HYPERION CDA67782 [69:49]

Recordings of Liszt songs are not all that rare. I have quite a few LPs and CDs, entirely or partly devoted to this repertoire. To my knowledge no record company has embarked upon the project of recording all of them. And it will be quite a hard task, I presume. Songs span most of Liszt’s creative years, from Angiolin dal biondo crin in 1839 to the orchestration of Die Vätergruft in 1886. Not only are there around six dozen songs but many of them exist in several versions, as on the present disc where only three of the songs are solitaires. There is no mention of the number of discs in the series, nor is there any explanation to the order of songs. To me it seems haphazard, presumably the aim of the programming is to create a varied disc. For musicological reasons there could have been either of two principles: strictly chronological order or the different versions of each song grouped together. Preferably a combination of the two principles would have been the ideal. To be able to compare versions is, I believe, interesting to a lot of listeners.

Don’t let these reflections deter you from acquiring this disc, however. In Matthew Polenzani we have a well-nigh ideal Lieder singer and with one of the very best accompanists now before the public they team up as a marvellous duo. The first time I heard Polenzani was more than six years ago when I had an opera recital with four young international singers for review. I was impressed by his beauty of tone as well as his sense for style and impeccable taste. Those characteristics are very much in evidence throughout this disc. Add to this that he moves effortlessly from forte to half-voice, so important for a Lieder-singer, and he means something with the words. Klinge leide, mein Lied, the first song on this disc, is a suitable calling-card. The next song, In Liebeslust, shows him as a powerful and dramatic singing-actor, with no loss of beauty. Let me also at once give Julius Drake credit for his marvellous playing. Liszt’s ‘accompaniments’ are hardly less demanding than Rachmaninov’s, and very often spotlights the pianist in long preludes and interludes. Der Fischerknabe, the first of the Wilhelm Tell songs by Schiller, is a good example. This mini-cycle is filled with word-painting – just listen to Der Hirt with its dramatic postlude – and Der Alpenjäger, which follows attacca is no less heroic.

Angiolin dal biondo crin, which was his first song (1839) is here heard in its third version, written twenty years later, and it’s an agreeable song where Polenzani caresses the melody.

Possibly the technically most demanding songs are the three Petrach-sonetti, the first of them requiring the singer to move from the lowest baritone register up to the C sharp above high C – and virtuosic as well.

There were several songs here that I hadn’t heard before but this disc confirms that Liszt must be counted among the foremost song composers of the 19th century. Maybe he doesn’t always reach the sublime heights of Schubert, Schumann or Brahms but he has a distinct voice of his own and Matthew Polenzani is a splendid advocate of his oeuvre.

As always with Hyperion the production value is high: excellent recording, good liner-notes and we do get the texts and translations.

I can hardly wait for the next instalment in the series and whoever they choose for the second distance I’m sure it will be someone else from the A team. We have got used to that, ever since they launched the mammoth Schubert project. But I would definitely not mind hearing Matthew Polenzani again.

Göran Forsling

I can hardly wait for the next instalment.