Mezzo Moon
Johannes BRAHMS (1833 - 1897)
Wiegenlied [1:42]
Alexander von ZEMLINSKY (1871 - 1942)
Süsse, süsse Sommernacht [1:46]
C.E.F. WEYSE (1774 - 1842)
Natten er så stille [1:22]
Franz SCHUBERT (1797 - 1828)
Ständchen [3:40]
Robert SCHUMANN (1810 - 1856)
Du bist wie eine Blume [1:40]
Nacht und Träume [3:28]
Wiegenlied [2:44]
Mondnacht [3:57]
Carl NIELSEN (1865 - 1931)
Saenk kun dit hoved du blomst [1:57]
Litanei [4:42]
Max REGER (1873 - 1916)
Des Kindes Gebet [1:37]
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756 - 1791)
Abendempfindung [5:05]
Ottorino RESPIGHI (1879 - 1936)
Notte [3:20]
Richard STRAUSS (1864 - 1949)
Die Nacht [2:53]
Morgen [3:26]
Johannes BRAHMS
Nachtwandler [3:17]
Richard WAGNER (1813 - 1883)
Der Engel [3:16]
Träume [5:05]
Pia Heise (mezzo), Roger Vignoles (piano)
rec. Potton Hall, Westleton, Suffolk, England, 21-23 November 2011
Sung texts with English translations enclosed
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 sound delivery.
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 mid-sixties.
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 fragrant poem.
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.
Göran Forsling 

A wholly delightful programme - to be enjoyed at any time of the day.