Johannes BRAHMS (1833 - 1897)
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)
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 - 1791)
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 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
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.
A wholly delightful programme - to be enjoyed at any time of the day.