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Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Die schöne Magelone Op. 33 (1869) [57:30]
“Wundersame Liebesgeschichte der schöne Magelone und des Grafen Peter von Provence” mit Liedern Op.33 von Johannes Brahms [97:19]
Paul Armin Edelmann (baritone); Julia Stemberger (recitation); Charles Spencer (piano)
rec. 2011, Studio Tonal, Vienna (lieder); 20 November 2013, 4tune Studio, Vienna (recitation).
Full details at end of review
CAPRICCIO C5225 [3 CDs: 57:30 + 64:09 + 33:10]

This set contains two intimately related works of art, one a song-cycle on poems from a Romantic fairy story; the other a reading of the original story with those songs inserted at the moments where the original poems occurred. The cycle is a major work of Johannes Brahms, and the one from which most non-Germans probably feel the most distant, since we do not have the literary and cultural hinterland of Brahms’s audiences and their descendants. This release, a music CD and a 2-CD audiobook plus the music, can be seen as a way to grow as close to Brahms’s Op.33 as a non-German speaker can hope to. If you don’t know it, this cycle is worth a little trouble – it is not perhaps as immediately compelling as the great Schubert and Schumann cycles, but yields its beauties – and there are plenty – at a slower rate.

Brahms described his song-cycle Die schöne Magelone simply as “Romances from L. Tieck’s Magelone”. Ludwig Tieck (1773-1853) was an early Romantic poet, novelist, critic, translator and teller of fairy tales such as this “Wondrous Love Story of the beautiful Magelone and Count Peter of Provence”. It tells of Count Peter, a young knight who falls in love with a King’s daughter, the lovely Magelone, who agrees to elope with him. A curious incident - a fairy tale trope involving the sleeping Princess, three rings, a thieving Raven and not a little erotic confusion - separates them when they are about to take ship. Magelone becomes a shepherdess while Peter is held prisoner in the Palace of a Sultan. He escapes by pretending to elope with the Sultan’s daughter and after years of separation is eventually happily reunited with Magelone.

Tieck’s prose text has 17 poems embedded in it of which Brahms set 15, but heard out of their context they tell little of this tale. The songs were not all initially published at once, and Brahms said he did not even think of Tieck’s tale when setting the poems. Yet it has become regarded as a cycle nonetheless, usually performed and recorded complete. Brahms resisted the option of performing this substantial hour-long cycle with attendant readings of the related prose, though that is occasionally done in Germany, where Tieck is lauded as a founding father of German Romanticism. For many of us though, some form of narrative link is needed for a proper appreciation. In the age of recording this is easily provided in the booklet notes. Here though we have the whole tale, read by an actress on CDs 2 and 3 with the songs heard a second time “in context”. The first CD has just the songs, in the same performance.

Paul Armin Edelmann, (son of Otto Edelmann, Karajan’s Baron Ochs in his EMI Der Rosenkavalier) is an established Austrian baritone in opera house, concert hall and recital room. He has a very good attractive voice and a solid technique – which is needed for this work - one that is particularly challenging to sing. Which is why many singers, according to Graham Johnson’s Hyperion booklet note for the piece, put it off “to another season, or even another lifetime”. Here we have a singer who can do justice to its varied demands and who has the cultural background and the native language to make everything sound idiomatic. He also has the range and stamina to sustain the more demanding songs, without compromising the quality of his tone, or his control of pace and rhythm. Tempi are traditional for the work, resulting in the standard running time for Op.33 of just over 57 minutes. Take any one song and Edelmann is its master. Perhaps over the whole sequence one could wish for still more variety of vocal colour, but then on disc we are really not obliged to hear the whole cycle at a sitting, since Brahms expected only a few of these songs to be done at a time. The accompaniment – though that is hardly the word for a piano part made for the fingers of the young virtuoso Brahms – is superbly done by the distinguished veteran Charles Spencer, and the sound is good, with just the right acoustic perspective for a song recital, as if from a centre-stalls seat in a small hall.

For most collectors this will be all that matters - that we have a new and competitive Die schöne Magelone. Here we also have a reading of the complete Tieck story, given in German by a famous Austrian actress Julia Stemberger. She adopts a suitable “once upon a time” manner, and was recorded in a different studio on a different occasion, and afforded a closer and more intimate acoustic than on the Brahms cycle disc. This means a slight jolt when moving between cosy fireside yarn and lieder recital hall each time one of the poems set by Brahms arrives in the story. However this is more refreshing than restricting, since the whole tale plus songs lasts nearly two hours. I suppose this would appeal only to those fluent in German, though I managed fairly well with my few German words and phrases, while following an English text. Capriccio could have widened the appeal though by including a full English synopsis in the booklet, or a link to a full text and translation on their website. The booklet has just an English note on the cycle and the performers. The song texts are given in German only. Since even German speakers will listen to the Tieck story very occasionally, perhaps Capriccio will make the song-cycle disc available on its own, with a translation of the songs and a linking narrative. That would be an internationally successful issue.

For now though, those seeking only the Brahms cycle of Fifteen Romances have some impressive options. Most recent is the latest volume (number five) in Hyperion’s Brahms song series, with Christopher Maltman and Graham Johnson. I found this slightly less satisfying than the previous four volumes though, since Maltman’s voice sounds grittier and less mellifluous than it usually does, and less appealing in this work than Edelmann’s. Our MusicWeb International reviewer was not troubled by this however, and you certainly get a solid and sensitive vocal performance and 39 pages of superb notes from Graham Johnson, including a pretty full linking narrative. There is also Andreas Schmidt on the cpo Brahms lieder series, if you can find a copy. For now I am still inclined to go back to one of Fischer-Dieskau’s variously reissued versions, whether with Demus, Richter or Barenboim. Though the best of all his recordings might be the live one from Salzburg in 1964 with Gerald Moore – the 1989 3-CD EMI release of that had a fine booklet with notes, texts and translations, linking narrative – and two other Salzburg recitals from that ideal team. Fischer-Dieskau more or less resurrected this Brahms cycle, and on disc perhaps he owns it still.

Roy Westbrook
Full Track Details
CD 1
15 Romanzen aus Die Schöne Magelone, Op. 33
No. 1. Keinen hat es noch gereut 4:15
No. 2. Traun! Bogen und Pfeil sind gut fur den Feind 1:49
No. 3. Sind es Schmerzen, sind es Freuden 5:35
No. 4. Liebe kam aus fernen Landen 4:29
No. 5. So willst du des Armen dich gnadig erbarmen? 1:49
No. 6. Wie soll ich die Freude, die Wonne denn tragen? 6:34
No. 7. War es dir, dem diese Lippen bebten 3:16
No. 8. Wir mussen uns trennen, geliebtes Saitenspiel 4:28
No. 9. Ruhe, Sussliebchen 5:33
No. 10. Verzweiflung, "So tonet denn" 2:42
No. 11. Wie schnell verschwindet so Licht als Glanz 4:08
No. 12. Muss es eine Trennung geben 3:10
No. 13. Sulima, "Geliebter, wo zaudert" 2:07
No. 14. Wie froh und frisch 2:49
No. 15. Treue Liebe dauert lange 4:46
CD 2
15 Romanzen aus Die Schone Magelone, Op. 33
Text: Ob Ihr die alten Tone gerne hort? 2:00
No. 1. Keinen hat es noch gereut 4:10
Text: Der Jungling horte still dem Gesange zu 1:58
No. 2. Traun! Bogen und Pfeil sind gut fur den Feind 1:45
Text: Er kam nach vielen Tagereisen … 3:36
No. 3. Sind es Schmerzen, sind es Freuden 5:31
Text: In der selben Nacht 2:23
No. 4. Liebe kam aus fernen Landen 4:25
Text: Dieses Lied ruhrte Magelone 1:34
No. 5. So willst du des Armen dich gnadig erbarmen? 1:45
Text: Die Amme sagte 1:10
No. 6. Wie soll ich die Freude, die Wonne denn tragen? 6:31
Text: Jetzt war die Zeit da und die Stunde gekommen 2:03
No. 7. War es dir, dem diese Lippen bebten 3:11
Text: Der Konig Magelon von Neapel 2:42
No. 8. Wir mussen uns trennen, geliebtes Saitenspiel 4:22
Text: Die Nacht war gekommen 2:55
No. 9. Ruhe, Sussliebchen 5:30
Text: Peter war durch seinen Gesang 3:56
No. 10. Verzweiflung, "So tonet denn" 2:42
CD 3
15 Romanzen aus Die Schone Magelone, Op. 33
Text: Magelone erwachte 4:26
No. 11. Wie schnell verschwindet so Licht als Glanz 4:04
Text: Peter erholte sich aus seiner Betaubung 1:09
No. 12. Muss es eine Trennung geben 3:05
Text: Der Sultan hatte eine Tochter 2:37
No. 13. Sulima, "Geliebter, wo zaudert" 2:04
Text: Peter erschrak im Herzen 1:18
No. 14. Wie froh und frisch 2:45
Text: Als das Morgenrot aufging … 6:56
No. 15. Treue Liebe dauert lange 4:46



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