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Johannes BRAHMS (1833 - 1897)
Alexander von ZEMLINSKY (1871
Süsse, süsse Sommernacht [1:46]
C.E.F. WEYSE (1774 - 1842)
Natten er så stille [1:22]
Franz SCHUBERT (1797 - 1828)
Robert SCHUMANN (1810 - 1856)
Du bist wie eine Blume [1:40]
Nacht und Träume [3:28]
Carl NIELSEN (1865 - 1931)
Saenk kun dit hoved du blomst [1:57]
Max REGER (1873 - 1916)
Des Kindes Gebet [1:37]
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756
Ottorino RESPIGHI (1879 - 1936)
Richard STRAUSS (1864 - 1949)
Die Nacht [2:53]
Richard WAGNER (1813 - 1883)
Der Engel [3:16]
Pia Heise (mezzo), Roger Vignoles (piano)
rec. Potton Hall, Westleton, Suffolk, England, 21-23 November 2011
Sung texts with English translations enclosed
DANACORD DACOCD 720 [56:43]
Pia Heise studied at the Royal Danish Academy of Music in Copenhagen
and at the Royal College of Music in London. She set out as
a soprano. Back in Copenhagen she studied with famous bass Sten
Byriel and changed over to mezzo-soprano. She has also studied
with Jennifer Larmore and attended master-classes with Margaret
Price, Rudolf Jansen, Andreas Schmidt and her accompanist on
this disc, Roger Vignoles. This information boded well for her
debut recital disc which was much to my liking: a fresh programme
with a number of inevitable gems but also some lesser-known
songs. This concept makes the programme an integrated unity.
Add to this that the recording is honest and distinct and that
Vignoles is one of the truly great Lieder pianists. The singer
herself is blessed with a beautiful lyrical mezzo voice and
So, what do I mean by ‘sound delivery’? It may give
the impression of correctness, efficiency and perhaps a few
pinches of dullness - but that is not the case. ‘Unfussy
readings’ is probably a better expression, which implies
that Ms Heise lets the music speak without over-interpreting
it. There is some truth in that. Most of the songs are so well
known that many listeners may be able to sing along. God forbid
in the recital hall but in the private listening room it is
OK. One point with letting the music speak is that the listener
can just relax and enjoy, something that often happens in the
recital hall when we reach the encores. The singer relaxes,
the audience relaxes and there is a cosy atmosphere.
This is what happens here. Once in a while I felt that more
tonal variety wouldn’t have gone amiss. On the other hand
the whole programme is exquisitely sung and Heise’s readings
are full of finely shaded nuances.
She begins with one of the most beloved of songs, Brahms’s
beautiful Wiegenlied; it sets the mood. Not that we tend
to fall asleep - on the contrary we want to hear more, more,
more. The Zemlinsky is beautiful. I was tempted to replay it
at once. Weyse’s Natten er så stille, is
one of the gems in the early Danish song repertoire. He was
sent from his native Altona in Germany to Copenhagen at the
age of fifteen to study and remained there for the rest of his
life. He got to know Mozart’s widow, Constanze, who lived
in Copenhagen for ten years. She thought Weyse’s music
was on a par with Mozart’s. The Schubert and Schumann
songs are excellent and in particular Nacht und Träume
is sung with deep feeling and a darkening of tone. In Schlafe,
schlafe, holder, süsser Knabe she lightens the tone
to a girlish quality.
In Denmark Carl Nielsen’s many songs are very popular.
These examples are simple in structure and folksong like. They
should win admirers in the rest of Europe as well, just as Grieg’s
and Sibelius’s songs have. Saenk kun dit hoved, du
blomst is one of his most attractive.
Schubert’s Litanei is often sung solemnly and slowly.
Pia Heise here shows that it loses none of its gravitas when
performed more flowingly and with a lighter touch. Max Reger
is unfairly neglected as a song composer. The little Des
Kindes Gebet is wholly delightful with its Glockenspiel-style
accompaniment. The text is delightful too:
When the small children are praying,
all the stars are listening,
and all the Angels come to earth
quiet, with shoes of gold.
They listen to the words of the children
and take them deeply into their heart.
They bear them, through the Heavenly gate
to the gracious Lord.
Mozart’s Abendempfindung is contemporaneous with
Eine kleine Nachtmusik. The mood is quite different from
the popular serenade but the song is just as likeable. In this
particular song however I have been spoilt from my earliest
years as a collector by the light and shade of Irmgard Seefried
and later Elisabeth Schwarzkopf. I have to admit, though, that
vocally Pia Heise is a lot fresher than Seefried was in the
Respighi is also a relative rarity as a song composer and, to
be honest, he is not always the most charming melodically. In
Notte he surpassed himself: this is his vocal masterpiece
with a piano accompaniment that perfectly matches Ada Negri’s
The two Strauss songs are always welcome inclusions in any song
programme. Brahms’ Nachtwandler is more of a rarity.
Max Kalbeck’s dark poem has obviously inspired Brahms
to this restrained but becoming song. Kalbeck was a leading
music critic for several decades. He strongly disliked the music
of Wagner, Bruckner and Wolf but supported Brahms strongly and
wrote an eight volume Brahms biography.
That Mathilde Wesendonck was a strong source of inspiration
to Richard Wagner is no secret. It is nice to hear these songs
in the original version with piano accompaniment. They are less
hazy than when the full orchestra embraces them. Träume
is placed last in this nocturnal programme and should give a
sense of impending awakening - a feeling of morning that the
piano evokes very graphically. Pia Heise sings this last song
with Isolde-like ecstasy.
This is a wholly delightful programme - to be enjoyed at any
time of the day.