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Peter CORNELIUS (1824-1874)
Complete Lieder Volumes 1-3
Full tracklists at end of review.
Christina Landshamer (soprano)
Markus Schäfer (tenor)
Mathias Hausmann (baritone)
Hans Christoph Begemann (baritone: Vols 2 & 3)
Matthias Veit (piano)
rec. Bayrischer Rundfunk, Munich. Vol.1: 19 September 2010 (op.1), 12-15 January 2010 (op.3, op.4, op.15), 24-25 January 2011 (Brautlieder), 12 February and 18 April 2011 (Rheinische) Vols. 2-3: no dates given.
NAXOS 8.572556 [68:23] (vol.1) 8.572557 [56:36] (vol.2) 8.572558 [57:13] (vol.3)

These are the first three instalments in the Naxos project to record the complete art songs of German composer Peter Cornelius. At the time of writing, volume 3 is only available streaming from the Naxos Music Library, its physical release pencilled in for January 2014. There is in fact a fourth volume also currently obtainable by streaming only, but Naxos have not yet released a digital booklet for it. It has the non-sequential catalogue number 8.572859, as the expected 8.572559 has already gone elsewhere. As that volume is given over to Cornelius's sacred songs, including his op. 8 Weihnachtslieder - no.3 being 'Die Könige' ('The Kings'), the piece for which his name is most likely to be known - Naxos seem to have missed a trick in not releasing it in time for Christmas.
 
Rather like Hugo Wolf, much of Cornelius's oeuvre consists of vocal music, lieder in particular. Both men were somewhat in thrall to Wagner, yet both managed to find an original voice that did not sound like Wagner at all. Being of an earlier generation than Wolf, Cornelius has had a harder job emerging from Schubert's long deep shadow. Yet he was a relatively unusual figure in that he was also a poet and set a number of his approximately 700 texts - as indeed did Liszt and others.
 
All of Cornelius's songs share certain characteristics that will endear them to audiences: striking lyricism, emotional immediacy, stylistic heterogeneity and disarming modesty. Some were written for amateur performance, the duets of volume 3 especially, but the abundance of approachable texts and memorable melody suggests Cornelius would have been shrewder to publish many more than the handful he did during his lifetime.
 
Yet in spite of his undeniable word-painting talents, a recording project like this from Naxos stands or falls to a good degree on the quality of its singers. One huge positive here is that all four are native German speakers - so many song-cycles are devalued by the mispronunciations of non-natives whose enthusiasm and, sometimes, ego exceed their language skills.
 
Volume 1 sets off auspiciously - as well as an excellent technique, youngish soprano Christina Landshamer has a lovely voice, youthful and expressive to an ideal degree for this kind of repertoire. Tenor Markus Schäfer then comes in and does all right, but he is rather melodramatic and decidedly breathy. In fact, his initial voiced plosives (b/d/g) are, strangely, followed often by a puff of air, causing them to resemble (p/t/k). He is also precariously strained at times, as in the second of the Drei Lieder op.4.
 
Nevertheless, his voice is relatively young, although he is actually fifty-odd. Indeed, one caveat for this cycle is that all the male singers are arguably too old for their roles. Though a decade younger, Mathias Hausmann's voice is more mature than that of Schäfer - but too mature, in fact, and reedy. His rather wooden delivery - more suited to his usual operatic roles - only underlines further his unconvincing manner.
 
On volume 2, unfortunately, Landshamer is limited to a single song. Schäfer gets only a few minutes more, whilst Hausmann pops up again in the Drei Sonnetten - to much the same effect as before. Second baritone Hans Christoph Begemann makes his first appearance here - in fact, he has the lion's share of the programme. This initially seems no bad thing, because he has a more attractive voice quality than Hausmann, although he still sounds his fifty or so years. He is certainly more communicative, although his failing too is that he leans too much at times towards affectation, often singing emotionally dramatic passages with a deliberate, grating, quiver.
 
With the same group of singers, volumes 3 and 4 have similar issues. Whether or not these are considered problems as such will depend on an individual listener's preferences and proclivities - other early reviews of volume 1, for example, report no such annoyance. The important thing is that many of these songs deserve a firm place in the repertoire, and whilst different singers will be able to improve on many of these interpretations - Landshamer's excepted - these Naxos volumes at least give Cornelius a voice.
 
Texts are provided in their original German and parallel English. Overall the translator has done a reasonable job, although Cornelius himself might have been annoyed at some of the liberties taken with the poetry. For example, 'mit den roten Gardinen' ('with the red curtains') becomes 'with the blood-red curtains', whilst 'Mein Freund ist mein' ('My friend is mine') becomes 'My beloved is mine', whilst an article-less 'Auftrag' becomes 'The task'.
 
Naxos must also pay the price, like countless labels before them, for employing a native German-speaker for the English renderings. Thus there is occasional non-English terminology - 'candle's light' instead of 'candlelight' for 'Kerzenlicht' - and wrong register: 'Honigrüssel' (literally 'honey trunk') translated as 'nectar-sucking proboscis'. Most glaringly, 'gegen Sturm und Drang' is rendered as 'against storm and stress', thus reprising an alliterative conventionality of early Romantic literature that is nonetheless both misguided and out of place - German 'Drang' does not mean 'stress'.
 
There are also one or two spelling or wrong-word errors ('Knaben' printed, 'Buben' sung) in the text. The words heard in 'Ein Wort der Liebe' (last of the Drei Duette) are slightly different almost in their entirety to those printed. Naxos should be able to fix these easily.
 
Byzantion
Contact at artmusicreviews.co.uk
 
Full tracklists 
*Christina Landshamer (soprano)
+Markus Schäfer (tenor)
#Mathias Hausmann (baritone)
~Hans Christoph Begemann (baritone)
Matthias Veit (piano)
 
Complete Lieder, vol. 1
Sechs Lieder, op.1* [10:30]
Trauer und Trost, op.3+ [12:15]
(Sechs) Brautlieder* [17:26]
An Bertha, op.15+ [9:46]
(Vier) Rheinische Lieder# [9:44]
Drei Lieder, op.4+ [8:42]
 
Complete Lieder, vol. 2
Sechs Lieder, op.5, nos.2-6*+#~ [16:28]
Was will die einsame Träne~ [2:28]
Warum sind denn die Rosen so blass?~ [2:04]
Drei Sonetten# [9:05]
Dämmerempfindung~ [2:29]
Reminiszenz~ [3:34]
Abendgefühl (1st version)+ [2:08]
Abendgefühl (2nd version)+ [2:40]
Sonnenuntergang~ [2:29]
Das Kind# [0:52]
Gesegnet# [1:29]
Vision+ [3:30]
Die Räuberbrüder~ [2:43]
Am See~ [2:37]
Im tiefsten Herzen glüht mir eine Wunde~ [1:44]
 
Complete Lieder, vol. 3
Drei Lieder*+~ [5:12]
Schäfers Nachtlied~ [2:23]
In der Mondnacht# [3:10]
Preziosas Sprüchlein gegen Kopfweh* [1:51]
Du kleine Biene, verfolg mich nicht+ [1:21]
Frühling im Sommer* [3:04]
Mir ist, als zögen Arme* [1:53]
Hirschlein ging im Wald spazieren* [1:53]
Drei Duette, op.6*~ [5:37]
Vier Duette, op.16*~ [9:36]
Komm herbei, Tod!*+ [2:09]
Scheiden und Meiden*+ [2:42]
In Sternennacht*+ [2:24]
Verratene Liebe*+ [2:47]
Ich und du*~ [1:56]
Am Meer*~ [1:54]
Zu den Bergen hebet sich ein Augenpaar*~ [2:41]
Der Tod des Verräters#+~ [4:40] 


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