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Mahler Contemporaries Josef Bohuslav FOERSTER (1859-1951) Stabat Mater for Mixed Choir and Organ, Op.56 [18:36] Five songs from Lieder der Dämmerung Op.42: Lieben [3:34], Die Varlessene [2:40], Die Welt ist so schön [1:43], Im Walde [1:40], Die Tasten küsst eine zarte Hand [1:27]. Karl GOLDMARK (1830-1915) Schlage nicht die feuchten Augen nieder Op.18 No.6 [1:51] Weinet um sie Op.18 No.7 [2:44] Wolt er nur fragen Op.21 No.3 [1:30] Hugo WOLF (1860-1903) Ziltronenfalter im April [1:26] Blumengrus [1:17] Arnold SCHOENBERG (1874-1951) Hochzeitslied Op.3 No.4 [1:57] Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949) Ruhe, meine Seele Op.27 No.1 [3:03] Pauline VIARDOT (1821-1910) Die Beschwörung [3:00] Hans ROTT (1858-1904) Das Abendglöcklein [3:43] Alphons DIEPENBROCK (1862-1921) Der König in Thule [4:08] Es war ein alte König [2:27] Liebesklage [4:21] Celebrität [4:56] Bruno WALTER (1876-1962) Der junge Ehemann [3:27]
Petra Froese (soprano), Felix Rumpf (baritone), Tereza Nováková (soprano), Ladislava Vondráčková (piano).
Choir Association Campanula Jihlava/Pavel Jirák; Petr Sobotka (organ)
rec. 2014, Hotel Gustav Mahler; St. Jacob the Greater Church, Jihlava, Czech Republic. ARCO DIVA UP0164 2131 [68:36]
The solo vocal music recorded here formed part of last year’s annual Mahler Festival at Jihlava in the Czech Republic. The programme is principally one of songs from contemporaries and friends of Mahler, but a substantial work for choir and organ opens the disc, Foerster’s setting of the Stabat Mater. This is hardly well-known, although a few key works of Foerster’s orchestral and other music have long been represented on disc, especially from Czech sources. It is an engaging work, gentle rather than dramatic, with just mixed chorus and no vocal solos. The choir sounds engaged, well-prepared, and blends effectively in the fullest passages. Foerster is also given the most songs on the recital part of the disc, with five items from his Lieder der Dämmerung (“Twilight Songs”). These too are skilful and enjoyable if not highly distinctive. The idiom is that of sophisticated lieder rather than folk-based songs, but the fresh-voiced soprano Tereza Nováková sounds rather taxed by their demands, and too often for comfortable listening. She closes the disc rather lamely with a song by Bruno Walter, the melody of which is pleasant enough, but will probably make many a record collector grateful he never gave up the day job.
The other featured soprano, Petra Froese, has five composers and eight songs to deliver, three of Goldmark, two of Wolf, and one each of Schoenberg, Strauss and Viardot. Within such a varied group of unfamiliar items the discovery for many is likely to be the Viardot song Die Beschwörung (“Incantation”, to a poem by Pushkin). Pauline Viardot is best remembered as a singer, the mezzo for whom Brahms wrote his Alto Rhapsody. She also composed numerous songs, several as here from Russian sources — she was the mistress of Turgenev. One can hear why Clara Schumann thought her the most gifted woman she had ever met. Here and elsewhere though one wishes for a bit more security in intonation from Petra Froese, who though persuasive in her phrasing, exhibits the same vocal frailties as are heard on the recent ArcoDiva world première recording of Dvořák’s early opera Alfred (review).
The firm-voiced baritone Felix Rumpf — who is also among the cast of that Alfred — is the most reliable of these three soloists, especially in the four fine songs by the Dutchman Alphons Diepenbrock. The last of this group is the longest song on the CD, a setting of Goethe’s poem “Celebrity”. Rumpf rises superbly to its stirring climax. Indeed he seems the natural lieder singer here, the one in full command of his instrument and able to illuminate each song with intelligent use of vocal colour. A full song recital by him, whether in the standard lieder territory or rarer fare as here, would be most welcome. Here and throughout, the song recital elements of the disc benefit from a fine piano accompaniment by the experienced Ladislava Vondráčková. The recording engineers cope well with the hazards of live performance in the two different venues.
The booklet is modest but gives some information on the composers and the songs, including translations of the song titles. The short section on Diepenbrock, present in the Czech text of the booklet, is missing from the English pages. There are no texts or translations, but there is a link on the website to the Latin text of the Stabat Mater and to the German poems, but translations of neither. In such obscure song repertoire this is a serious omission. For the appeal of the disc, beyond the opening choral work, lies mainly with the several unfamiliar songs, especially the Diepenbrock group sung by Rumpf. Three of those four songs have texts by Goethe and Heine which ought to be accessible somewhere, but neither of my two anthologies of Goethe poems had “Celebrity”, although I found a serviceable translation on Poemhunter.com. That said, an art song is a marriage of poetry and music, and recordings that omit the text put asunder those that belong together. Collectors should not be required to go elsewhere in search of one half of the experience the composer intended they should have.