I. Freundschaft und Treue (Friendship and Fidelity)
Robert SCHUMANN (1810 – 1856)
1. Die beiden Grenadiere, op. 49 No. 1 (H. Heine) [3:31]
Franz SCHUBERT (1797 – 1828)
2. Die Bürgschaft D.246 (F. v. Schiller) [17:04]
Carl LOEWE (1796 – 1869)
3. Herr Oluf, Op. 2 No. 2 (J.G. Herder) [6:09]
II. Könige und Ritter (Kings and Knights)
4. Odins Meeresritt, op. 118 (A.W. Schreiber) [4:43]
5. Liedesend D. 473b (J.B. Mayrhofer) [5:20]
Franz LISZT (1811 – 1886)
6. Die Vätergruft S.281 (J.L. Uhland) [5:47]
7. Der Sänger, op. Posth. 145 No. 3 (J.L. Uhland) [4:36]
Alexander ZEMLINSKY (1871 – 1942)
8. Es war ein alter König (H. Heine) [2:12]
III. Geister und Gelichter (Ghosts and Phantoms)
9. Belsazar Op. 57 (H. Heine) [4:13]
10. Geisterleben op. 9 No. 4 (J.L. Uhland) [4:09]
11. Der Totentanz op. 44 No. 3 (J.W. v. Goethe) [4:11]
12. Waldgespräch (J. v. Eichendorff) [2:23]
Hugo WOLF (1860 – 1903)
13. Die Geister am Mummelsee (E. Mörike) [3:48]
14. Der Feuerreiter (E. Mörike) [5:23]
Kay Stiefermann (baritone), Alexander Schmalcz (piano)
rec. 4tune Studios, Vienna, 25-29 August 2013
CAPRICCIO C3002 [74:17]
The idea of presenting a programme with German ballads by several composers was a brilliant stroke of genius. With excellent execution and generous playing time this is a tempting proposition for lovers of German song. The songs are organized in three thematic groups and the mix of singers within each group is a guarantee of variety.
These ballads need a good, expressive story-teller. Seeing in the biography that Kay Stiefermann has taken part in master-classes with Hans Hotter is a good omen. Hotter’s recording of Schumann’s Die beiden Grenadiere is a long-time favourite and hearing it as the opening number of this disc I can only nod approvingly: he learnt his lesson from the legendary Wotan. Not that he is copying his teacher’s reading but he has adopted the expressive power, excellent enunciation and powerful delivery; add to these strengths that he has a good voice. This bodes well for the rest of the programme, and the next number, Schubert’s 17-minute-long Die Bürgschaft, could very well be a stumbling-block for any singer. So long a song needs a vocal actor of some stature, and Stiefermann delivers accordingly: histrionic story-telling with a rich palette of colours. His reading of Loewe’s Herr Oluf is light and elegant – and bombastic as well.
More Loewe follows in the next group with an ebullient performance of Odins Meeresritt. He impresses also greatly with his nuanced singing of Franz Liszt’s Der Vätergruft. His soft singing is utterly telling. Here we also meet Alexander Zemlinsky, whose music isn’t too often heard. That is a pity, since he has a great deal to offer. The Heine-setting Es war ein alter König is a little pearl. It should be noted that the order of this song and Schumann’s Der Sänger has been reversed in the track-list on the back cover.
The two Loewe songs in the third group are also gems, and in particular Der Totentanz with a hilarious piano accompaniment should be a great favourite. For Alexander Schmalcz, who throughout the recital is a pillar of strength, this is a real tour de force. The second Zemlinsky song, about the witch Loreley, is also fine and the two concluding poems by Mörike – as always drawing the best from Hugo Wolf – are true highlights. Der Feuerreiter is a thriller in this deeply involved reading by Kay Stiefermann, who all through the disc is very sensitive to the texts.
As on the companion recital featuring Thilo Dahlmann (review) there is minimal information about the music and only bios on the singer and the pianist. Considering that this is a rather unusual programme some background material wouldn’t have come amiss. The sung texts can be had as a download from the web but it is no doubt more convenient to have them on an extra inlay. Since the disc sells at budget price we shouldn’t complain too much, though. What counts is the quality of the music and of the music-making, and in these respects I am more than satisfied. As with Thilo Dahlmann I look forward to hearing more from Kay Stiefermann. This disc is an excellent calling-card.