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Stephanie Houtzeel (mezzo-soprano)
Charles Spencer (piano)
rec. 4tune Studios, Vienna, June 2014.
CAPRICCIO C5262 [50.45]

This is a delightful and unexpected programme of largely twentieth century music of great beauty. Listen, for example to the very first piece, Ginastera’s Canción al arbol del olvido and there is an immediate sense of great artistry, but no distortion of an underlying simplicity. Great artistry in performance brings out what is in the music, not pulling it about for some imposed effect. That sensitivity is the hallmark of Stephanie Houtzeel’s approach to all the music in this first recital.

As a performer she is largely unknown to British audiences – perhaps this CD will do something to rectify that lack. She was born in Kassel, Germany, but grew up near Boston. Today, most of her work is in Germany and Austria – she appears, for instance, in Reimann’s Medea at Vienna State Opera in Spring 2017. I first heard her sing at the Lech Classical Festival in 2013, and was instantly impressed, only to be bowled over by her performance as Orfeo in Gluck’s opera (a concert performance) the following year. This was an artist of both stature and presence, so it is good to hear her better represented on disc.

This programme might be considered brave – too many debut recitals simply play safe with the choice of music. There is obviously reference to her background in these pieces, and it is good to be reminded of Ives’ gifts as a songwriter. For most of the songs here, Susan Graham’s recital (coupled with Pierre-Laurent’s performance of the Concord Sonata) on Warner Classics (Warner 256460972) has been for me the benchmark. The new performances bear comparison with those (Songs My Mother Taught Me, The Housatonic at Stockbridge, Ann Street and The Indians are common to both recordings). In The Indians, Houtzeel captures perfectly the sense of sadness felt for Native Americans – such grief is simply expressed in the simple last line, ‘Their children go to die.’

I enjoyed the Mahler no less, though the songs are perhaps more familiar. The Argentinian works combine the familiar, such as Piaziolla’s Los pájaros perdidos, with the unfamiliar. Buchardo was a name new to me, but he has a melodic gift.

Charles Spencer is one of the finest contemporary accompanists and he and Houtzeel have an evident rapport and similar sensitivity to both text and music.

Texts are given in the accompanying booklet, but no translations, which is a pity, as not everyone is equally fluent in English, German and Spanish. Notes are in English and German. Recording quality is excellent.

This is a recital to which I shall return often: there are so many wonderful moments to treasure.

Michael Wilkinson

Alberto GINASTERA (1916 – 1983)
Canción al arbol del olvido, op.3 [2.25]
Charles IVES (1874 – 1954)
Songs my mother taught me [2.28]
Gustav MAHLER (1860 – 1911)
Carlos López BUCHARDO (1881 – 1948)
Prenditos de la mano [2.24]
Charles IVES
Down East [2.51]
Ann Street [1.07]
The Housatonic at Stockbridge [3.27]
Ich atmet’ einem linden Duft! [2.24]
Carlos GUASTAVINO (1912 – 2000)
Encantamiento [1.54]
Wenn mein Schatz Hochzeit macht [3.51]
Pampamapa (Aire de huella) [3.36]
Ich hab’ ein glühend Messer [3.18]
Charles IVES
The Indians [2.06]
Tom Sails away [2.38]
Wo die schönen Trompeten blasen [6.55]
Triste, op.10 no 2
Astor PIAZZOLLA (1921 -1992)
Los pájaros perdidos [2.53]



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