Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
The Complete Songs - Volume 6
Lieder und Gesänge Op. 32 [22:56]
Die Kränze, Op. 46 No. 1 [3:37]
Botschaft, Op. 47 No. 1 [1:57]
Liebesglut, Op. 47, No. 2 [2:25]
Es liebt sich so lieblich, Op. 71 No. 1 [1:52]
Geheimnis, Op. 71 No. 3 [2:12]
Willst du, daß ich geh'?, Op. 71 No. 4 [2:37]
Unüberwindlich, Op. 72 No. 5 [1:51]
Sommerabend, Op. 85 No. 1 [2:48]
Mondenschein, Op. 85 No. 2 [2:32]
Lieder (4), Op. 96 [10:17]
Auf dem Kirchhofe, Op. 105 No. 4 [2:46]
Ständchen, Op. 106 No. 1 1:46]
Meine Lieder Op. 106 No. 4 [1:52]
An die Stolze, Op. 107 No. 1 [1:52]
Salamander, Op. 107 No. 2 [0:57]
Ian Bostridge (tenor)
Graham Johnson (piano)
Rec. 3-5 June 2015, All Saints’ Church, East Finchley, London, UK.
HYPERION CDJ33126 [67:07]

For this sixth volume in the Hyperion Brahms complete lieder series, Graham Johnson again partners with Ian Bostridge, twenty years after they performed Die Schöne Müllerin together in that now celebrated Hyperion first complete edition of Schubert’s songs. Many award-winning discs have followed from Bostridge since then, but that was his breakthrough. Twenty years on the voice has less bloom at times, and there is some roughness when the demands of the music stretch the singer’s resources. But time and experience also bring much insight and sensitivity, and the benefits to a lieder singer are considerable.

The programme is a particularly attractive one, with two important publications given complete, Op.32 and Op.96. The first of these comprises nine items and contains a number of favourite Brahms songs often heard in concert – Graham Johnson’s notes mention “in particular numbers 1, 2, 6 and above all number 9”. Also all four songs of the Op.96 are among his gems, and the linked pair of Heine settings, Sommerabend and Mondenschein are also recital favourites. But with regard to Op.32, Johnson also makes the point that the very personal selection of poems by Brahms and their connecting thread of “lost love, isolation, nostalgia” make this a “concealed cycle”.

It begins with the superb Wie rafft ich mich auf in der Nacht (“How I leapt up in the might”), Bostridge emphasising almost painfully its remorseful grandeur with his searching introspective singing, and he is just as fine in its successor. In the heavyweight fourth song the voice is stretched a bit at the most insistent of the iterations of the question “Wo ist er nun?” (“Where is it now?”), but the sense of existential anguish is almost enhanced thereby. Some roughness above the stave is heard again in the next song, but the greatness of the sixth item Du sprichst, dass ich mich täuschte (“You tell me I was mistaken”) brings us Bostridge at his imaginative best. Johnson describes the final song of Op.32, Wo bist du, meine Königin? as “one of the world’s song masterpieces”, and Bostridge is raptly spiritual in this exquisite and melodically memorable adagio, especially in its minor key third verse. The pair from Op.85 provide two of the highlights of the disc. In Sommerabend we bask in the duftig labend (‘soothing haze’) suggested by the tenor’s veiled tone on that phrase, and in Mondenscheinen Bostridge is a rapt poet of the soul (as indeed is Brahms). The four songs of Op.96 are as well served as the other items, despite in the opening song a little rawness on the climactic high A for ‘Leibe’, but then it does represent the emotions of a dying man in extremis. Johnson’s playing is as supportive and suggestive as ever, and his booklet notes are outstanding in fullness and insight. The recorded sound is well up to the high house standard of this label.

So collectors of this Hyperion series should no doubt be acquiring this issue, and fans of Ian Bostridge will certainly not be disappointed either. Those just wanting to add some Brahms lieder to their collection, or who have a particular interest in this programme, should also consider the recent Brahms CD from baritone Matthias Goerne and Christoph Eschenbach on Harmonia Mundi. The headline item on that is the Four Serious Songs, one of Brahms’s greatest works in any genre. But it also has considerable overlap with the selection on Bostridge’s disc. There is the whole of Op.32, three of the four from Op.96 (the Heine settings), and the linked Heine pair of Sommerabend and Mondenschein. And the singing and playing are excellent. I suspect many a lieder lover will want both the tenor and the baritone versions.

Roy Westbrook

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