Franz LISZT (1811-1886)
The Complete Songs - Vol. 2
1. Der du von dem Himmel bist S279 (LW N10) (Goethe), first version (1842) [4:41]
2. Ihr Glocken von Marling S328 (LW N69) (Kuh), (1874) [2:35]
3. Ein Fichtenbaum steht einsam S309 (LW N36) (Heine), first setting, first version (1845-60) [2:35]
4. Vergiftet sind meine Lieder S289 (LW N29) (Heine), third version (1844-49) [1:16]
5. Freudvoll und leidvoll S280 (LW N23) (Goethe), first setting, second version (1849)[3:02]
6. Die drei Zigeuner S320 (LW N62) (Lenau), first version (1860) [6:08]
7. Über allen Gipfeln ist Ruh: S306 (LW N46) (Goethe), third version (1859) [3:32]
8. J:ai Perdue ma force et ma vie S327 (LW N68) (Musset) (1872) [3:55]
9. Jeanne d:Arc au bûcher S293 (LW N37) (Dumas), third version (1874-75) [7:37]
10. Es war ein König in Thule S278 (LW N9) (Goethe), second version (1856) [3:19]
Muttergottes-Sträusslein zum Mai-Monate S316 (LW N54) (Müller) (1857) [6:19]
11. Das Veilchen [3:49]
12. Die Schlüsselblumen [2:29]
13. Und sprich S329 (LW N70) (Biegeleben) (1875, rev 1878-9) [2:47]
14. Ihr Auge S310 (LW N20) (Herossshon), second version (1843-9) [0:47]
15. Im Rhein, im schönen Strome S272 (LW N3) (Heine) second version (1855) [3:17]
16. Es muss ein Wunderbares sein S314 (LW N49) (Redwitz) (1852) [1:48]
17. La perla S326 (LW N67) (Hohenlohe-Waldenberg), second version (1872) [4:54]
18. Der du von dem Himmel bist S279 (LW N10) (Goethe), third version (1860) [4:03]
Angelika Kirchschlager (mezzo), Julius Drake (piano)
rec. Potton Hall, Dunwich, Suffolk, 11-13 October 2011
Sung texts with English translations enclosed
HYPERION CDA67934 [62:47]
Franz Liszt occupies a rather strange place in the musical pantheon. For one thing, he dropped into common parlance as an element of Cockney rhyming slang - ‘Brahms and…’ For another, he has gained a reputation for being a romantic composer having all the attributes of that designation - long flowing locks, a complex personality, an adventurous spirit and a penchant for composing frighteningly difficult pieces of music. Yet ask the average ‘music-lover’ to name a piece of his music and they would be stumped - at least after suggesting two or three ‘pot-boilers’.
He is generally considered as a composer for piano. The Arkiv CD catalogue shows that twelve of the thirteen best-selling pieces involve the piano. Far and away, the most popular work is the beautiful, but dreadfully hackneyed ‘Liebesträume’, with an unbelievable 242 recordings currently available. However equally astonishing is the fact the there are 210 versions of the great Piano Sonata in B minor currently available - and that did surprise me. For the rest, other favourites includes the Consolation No.3 in D flat major, the two piano concertos, Un sospiro and the Hungarian Rhapsody in C sharp minor. The odd man out is the 101 recordings of the fine orchestral score, Les Preludes.
All this shows that appreciation of Liszt is very uneven. When one then considers the choral and chamber music, the results show comparatively few recordings. Therefore, it is hardly surprising that when the listener turns to the songs, they are completely under-represented.
This is not to say that they are rare or non-existent. Göran Forsling, reviewing Volume 1 of this Hyperion ‘complete’ edition on MusicWeb International, noted that he ‘has quite a few LPs and CDs, entirely or partly devoted to this repertoire.’ Arkiv would certainly suggest that many songs are available on compilations and recitals. However, Forsling goes on to say that, he has no knowledge of any other recording company embarking on a ‘complete’ edition of every song in the catalogue.
A study of the Liszt catalogue shows songs running from the early Angiolin dal biondo crin (1839) through to the Tolstoy settingNe brani menya, moy drug from the last year of the composer’s life. There would appear to be some 75 songs in total. The situation becomes much more complicated, however, when the many revisions and new versions are taken into account. This pushes the number to well over a hundred. The track-listing for this disc suggests that Hyperion intend to do just what it says and produce a recording of every song and every version. I guess this will extend the series to five or six CDs.
Franz Liszt’s position in the history of song composition is infinitely more important than this comparative neglect would suggest. These songs lie on a trajectory from Schubert and Schumann to Richard Strauss and Hugo Wolf. Liszt’s main contribution was to have added the sense of the dramatic to what before had been a concentration almost (but not entirely) on the lyrical. Another innovation was the development of the accompaniment away from the rhythmic figures of Schubert to that of a motif developed with considerable ingenuity by ‘alterations and metamorphoses without ever losing its character’. Added to this are the ‘trademark harmonic and tonal experimentation’ which was part of the composer’s attempt at ‘imagining the music of the future’.
One of the problems with any account of Liszt’s songs is the above-noted large number of revisions and versions that are scattered throughout the catalogue. Susan Youens in her liner-notes suggests that this urge to revise and re-compose was greater ‘than any other nineteenth century song composer except Schubert’. This process is highlighted with the first and last tracks on this CD. The Goethe song Der du von dem Himmel bist (You who come from heaven) was originally conceived in 1842. However, there are three extant subsequent versions of this song including the present one from 1860. The second version was completed at a date unknown and the composer was working on a fourth, which was left incomplete at his death. The differences between the 1842 and the 1860 versions are clear. The former is extrovert, overblown, and richly conceived whereas the latter has a much more Spartan texture and is largely reflective. Both are excellent settings of the text.
It is not my intention to examine each song: just to mention a few personal highlights. However, I do note that a wide range of poets and authors is represented here including the inevitable Goethe and Heine. The French authors, Alexandre Dumas and Henri Musset have contributed poems for two fine songs.
I love Es muss ein Wunderbares sein which also happens to be one of the composer’s most ‘popular’ songs. Youens notes the relative simplicity and lack of ‘pyrotechnics.’ It is beautifully constructed and characterised by a dreamy, poetical quality. ‘La Perla’, which is the only Italian text on this CD, may have been composed for the noblewoman Thérèse von Hohenlohe-Waldenberg (1817-1895) who wrote the poem. It is one of the longer and more dramatic items on this CD. The words describe the life and death of a ‘pearl’ born in a mussel shell to its final adornment of a lady - ‘the rape of Nature to satisfy human vanity’. Im Rhein, im schönen Strome is a beautiful setting of a text by Heine. The composer ‘paints rippling waters and the fluttering of angels’ wings.’ The colourful writing for the piano is virtually impressionistic in its representation of the reflection of Cologne Cathedral in the waters of the river.
Perhaps my favourite song is the one derived from Goethe’s Faust - Es war ein König in Thule (There was a King in Thule). This tells of the most remote, Northern kingdom of Thule - the ends of the earth. The poem is contrived to be like a ballad and is written in suitably archaic language. The composer’s interpretation of the text follows ‘every twist and turn’ of the story’.
Volume 1 of this series was sung by the tenor Matthew Polenzani and this present CD has the glorious voice of Angelika Kirchschlager. However, I imagine that many (if not all) of these songs could be sung equally effectively by ‘high’ or ‘low’ voice.
I am not sure what the rationale was behind selecting the ‘batting order’ of these songs. It is certainly not by poet, key, chronology or subject. I presume that it was devised to make a satisfying recital. However, that leads me to an interesting speculation. When a release is ‘complete’ one imagines that it is aimed at the cognoscenti. That being the case, I would have thought that chronological order would have been ideal - to appeal to people’s (and my own) ‘train-spotter’ mentality. However, it does beg the question as to where ‘revisions’ and ‘versions’ would be slotted in - with the original or by year?
The quality of this CD is stunning from every point of view. I mentioned the beautiful voice of Angelika Kirchschlager; she has the ability to make the hairs on the nape of my neck rise. Her achievements cross the whole range of classical music - however she does specialise in ‘lieder’ including those of Wolf, Schumann, Schubert and Mendelssohn. Furthermore, she has addressed the vocal music of composers as diverse as Bach, Korngold and Kurt Weill. Kirchschlager has recently recorded Volume 1 of the ‘Complete Songs of Johannes Brahms’ for Hyperion. Julius Drake makes a sensitive accompanist who is perfectly at home with both the exuberant and complex piano parts as well as the more thoughtful. It seems almost redundant to note that the sound quality and ambience of this recording is perfect.
The liner-notes written by Susan Youens are essential reading and will eventually make up an important essay on all Liszt’s songs when the cycle is complete. Hyperion has included the text of all the songs along with good translations.
This is a CD that I can heartily recommend. I admit to it being outwith my usual interests of ‘English Song’ nevertheless, I have always enjoyed the German lieder tradition as well. Liszt’s songs have been a closed book to me over the years. However, I imagine that I am not the only person who will find the present CD a huge revelation.
John France 

I imagine that I am not the only person who will find the present CD a huge revelation.