Six Songs, Op.1 (1902)* [17.29]
Fragmente eines Federspiels, Op.7 (1904)+ [8.49]
Six Songs, Op.4 (1905)* [11.16]
Neues Federspiel, Op.7 (1904)+ [10.26]
Music to Twelfth Night, Op.11 (1908)* [9.53]
Klärchen-Lieder, Op.29 (1916)+ [2.53]
Nachklänge Beethovenscher Musik, Op.13 (1910)* [4.00]
Herbstgefühl (1917)+ [2.00]
An die Parzen, Op.27/1 (1918)* [3.20]
Two Songs, Op.44 (1932)+ [2.55]
Marlis Petersen (soprano) + Konrad Jarnot (baritone) * Eric Schneider (piano)
rec. Studio Gärtnerstrasse, Berlin, *9-11 March 2011 and +1-3 April 2011 CAPRICCIO C5251 [73.01]
For myself, and I suspect for many others, one of the most valuable of the releases in Decca’s Entartete Musik series in the 1990s was the rediscovery of Braunfels’s opera The Birds. Some of the other operatic composers featured in the series were at least partially familiar – Korngold, Zemlinsky, Schreker and others – but the work of Braunfels was practically unknown. Like the other composers in this list, his music was doubly condemned: firstly by the Nazis as being “un-German”, and after the Second World War by the new German musical establishment as being irretrievably old-fashioned. Much has been done in the intervening years to rectify that neglect – we have had at various times recordings and productions of Prinzessin Brambilla, Die Verkundigung, Der Traum ein Leben and Jeanne d’Arc, as well as choral and orchestral music – but this is the first issue which has tackled his output as a composer of songs. This is not a large body of work, and insofar as I can gather we are here given his complete output in the genre although no such claim is actually made by the company who describe the contents on the back of the CD as “selected songs”.
In the first place, and given the abysmal failure of Capriccio in the past to provide either texts or translations of the frequently rare operas that have been reissued over the last few years, I must welcome the decision of the company to provide the lyrics for these songs. No translations are provided, alas, but since we are given the names of all the relevant poets and many of these are out of copyright, the omission can be rectified by reference to various internet sites. And secondly, when songs by composers of what I suppose we must term the ‘second rank’ are presented on record the performers are not always of the most appropriate; but this is decidedly not the case here.
The music itself is of overwhelming interest. In recent years we have had an accelerating spate of recordings of Braunfels (John Quinn on this site has welcomed the series of orchestral music from Dutton), and it has become possible to form some sort of general opinion of his compositional style. Braunfels has a wide range both of technique and emotional engagement, far more so than for example his fellow late-romantic Schreker with his over-heated but attractive richness. At the same time his music lacks the sheer melodic memorability of Richard Strauss from the preceding generation of German romantics, although this may simply be a matter of unfamiliarity. On the other hand Braunfels does not suffer from the same sense of sheer prolixity that can sometimes afflict Strauss. None of the songs on this disc exceeds four minutes in length, and most clock in around the two-minute mark.
No fewer than seventeen of these miniatures are grouped into the two cycles Fragmente eines Federspiels and Neues Federspiel, settings of Knaben Wunderhorn poems about birds which prefigure in many ways the later opera Die Vögel. These two cycles are superbly rendered by Marlis Petersen, whose Mozartian experience at Salzburg is allied to a stupendous command of the more stratospheric reaches of the voice (which has stood her in good stead in parts such as Berg’s Lulu and Massenet’s Thais). Braunfels’s piano parts even in these deceptively simple poems are highly challenging, but Eric Schneider encompasses the notes with ease including the passages of bird imitation. Peterson also features in two settings of Klarchen’s songs from Goethe’s Egmont, not afraid to risk comparison with Beethoven; and she returns for the final two songs on the disc, late settings of rather beautiful poems by Hans Carossa. I call these songs ‘late’ because they were the last pieces in that genre that Braunfels wrote, although he survived for another twenty-one years.
The remainder of the songs, the two sets of German poets and a compendium of five translations from Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, are assigned to Konrad Jarnot. The emotions here are somewhat meatier. The early Op.2 set, written when the composer was twenty, are delicate but show the influence of Hugo Wolf in their wide-ranging melodic lines; Jarnot floats the many quiet high notes exquisitely. The Op.4 set written three years later are more strenuous, most notably the Goethe setting Rastlose Liebe (track 19) and the excitable Flussübergang (again to a Knaben Wunderhorn text) which follows; but Jarnot rises well to the Wagnerian style of delivery which is required. The Shakespeare settings from Twelfth Night include a heartfelt Come away, Death and purely instrumental fragments intended to accompany spoken dialogue. The Brentano poem Nachlänge Beethovenscher Musik begins gently and builds to a superb declamatory climax.
The Hölderlin setting An die Parzen is one of a pair of songs written for baritone and orchestra, and has been recorded in that form by Michael Volle on a CD from Oehms Classics issued as recently as May 2016. It works well with piano despite the fact that some tremolos, always in danger of conjuring up images of the silent cinema, betray its orchestral origins. It is the only work contained on this disc that appears ever to have been recorded elsewhere. For the rest, this is an essential acquisition for those interested in the development of the German lied in the twentieth century; and it is all the more welcome for being so superbly performed and recorded. One wonders at the fact that this CD has waited five years for issue. Those who have encountered The Birds and are looking to expand their knowledge of Braunfels need not hesitate. Paul Corfield Godfrey