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Im schönen Strome – Heine Lieder
Robert SCHUMANN (1810–1856)
Liederkreis, Op. 24 (1840) [20:09]
Robert FRANZ (1815–1892)
Fifteen songs (1846–1870): Verfehlte Liebe
Eight songs (1846 – 1870): Mit schwarzen Segeln
Franz LISZT (1811 – 1886)
Five Songs (publ. 1856–1860)
Christian Immler (baritone)
Georges Starobinski (piano)
rec. September 2014, Musik-Akademie Basel, Switzerland
Sung texts with English translations enclosed
BIS BIS-2143 SACD [67:35]

Here is a singer who already has a long and illustrious career behind him both in concert and in recording. Now in his mid-forties he started as a member of the famous Tölzer Knabenchor, where he was alto soloist and recorded with both Nikolaus Harnoncourt and Wolfgang Sawallisch. When his voice broke he turned out to be a baritone – not wholly usual; boy altos tend to become tenors. Anyway he has been very active in baroque repertoire but has also been singing a lot of contemporary music – as a concert artist as well as in opera.

On the present disc he wanders some well-trodden paths, but halfway through the promenade he changes direction and follows a narrower and seldom visited track. We can certainly be grateful for that, since beautiful flowers are picked that we hadn’t seen before, or only rarely. On the way home he chooses more familiar terrain again and the bouquet he delivers on his return is one that will adorn any collection of 19th century flowers.

The unifying factor is the poet, Heinrich Heine, whose beautiful poems have inspired so many composers. Robert Schumann was drawn to them, most memorably maybe in Dichterliebe. In fact the nine songs of the lesser known cycle Liederkreis are also in his finest vein and as sung here by Christian Immler they stand out as possibly even finer than one had thought. They have been somewhat overshadowed by the other Liederkreis, Op. 39, settings of texts by Joseph Eichendorff. Immler offers sensitive and varied readings with deep feeling for the texts. He has a beautiful, well-schooled light baritone and his Bach-training is a good base for a Liedersinger. Also there is no lack of strength and capacity to negotiate even the most dramatic songs with admirable command.

The Schumann cycle is definitely not under-recorded and I can understand collectors who resist the temptation to add yet another version to the umpteen other readings that weigh down the shelves. However, that detour along the little trodden path yields a good profit: no fewer than 23 songs by Robert Franz … and who was he?

He was a few years younger than Schumann and Liszt, born in Halle where he also spent most of his life as organist and conductor. He composed about 250 songs that were appreciated by, among others, Liszt and Schumann. Schumann even wrote a lengthy review of his first book of songs when it was published in 1843. Quite early he was stricken with deafness. In the late 1860s he suffered from nervous disorder and had to resign from his posts. He was then provided for by Liszt, Joachim and others. There is thus a close connection between the three composers on this disc.

In spite of the positive reactions from his colleagues and a certain popularity during his lifetime, Franz has become overshadowed by his contemporaries during the 20th century, even though his songs occasionally have been performed and even recorded. A couple of years ago tenor Yves Saelens issued more than 30 of them, available from Amazon. I haven’t heard that recital but this encounter with them with Christian Immler a superb advocate, has whetted my appetite and I will search out what else is available. A natural melodic gift permeates his oeuvre and though his harmonic palette may not be as wide-ranging as Schumann’s there are many fascinating turns of invention that keep up the interest. The songs are generally brief – only two of them exceed 2 minutes – and there is enough personality in them, and variation, to digest them in one sitting without a feeling of satiety.

Many of Heine’s poems were set to music by both Schumann and Franz and several of Franz’s settings on this disc are well-known from Schumann’s Dichterliebe. It is interesting to compare them, without necessarily deciding that one is inferior to the other. To widen the basis for comparison further I can mention that Wilhelm Stenhammar also set some of those poems. The first of Liszt’s songs on this disc is another candidate. There is beauty and feeling aplenty in Franz’s songs as well as Schumann’s and Liszt’s and we should be grateful that they exist – and in readings as attractive as these.

The five Liszt songs, that conclude the recital, are gems. I praised Gerald Finley’s recent disc in the intended complete cycle on Hyperion and here he has a worthy competitor. Die Loreley, which Finley doesn’t sing, gets a ravishing reading of a truly ravishing song.

With a typically excellent BIS recording and Georges Starobinski a well matched duo partner this issue becomes one of the best Lieder discs that have come my way in recent times.

Göran Forsling
Track listing
Robert SCHUMANN (1810 – 1856)
Liederkreis, Op. 24 (1840) [20:09]
1. Morgens steh‘ ich auf und frage [0:56]
2. Es treibt mich hin, es treibt mich her [1:14]
3. Ich wandelte unter den Bäumen [3:15]
4. Lieb‘ Liebchen [0:47]
5. Schöne Wiege meiner Leiden [3:43]
6. Warte, warte, wilder Schiffmann [1:56]
7. Berg‘ und Burgen schau’n herunter [3:33]
8. Anfangs wollt‘ ich fast verzagen [0:45]
9. Mit Myrten und Rosen [3:50]
Robert FRANZ (1815 – 1892)
Fifteen songs (1846–1870): Verfehlte Liebe
10. Im wunderschönen Monat Mai, Op. 25 No. 5 [1:26]
11. Mädchen mit dem roten Mündchen, Op. 5 No. 5 [1:01]
12. Die blauen Frühlingsaugen, Op. 20 No. 1 [1:07]
13. Im Rhein, im heiligen Strome, Op. 18 No. 2[1:42]
14. Ich will meine Seele tauchen, Op. 43 No. 4 [0:36]
15. Wenn ich auf dem Lager liege, Op. 37 No. 6 [1:25]
16. Das ist ein Brausen und Heulen, Op. 8 No. 4 [0:55]
17. Allnächtlich im Träume, Op. 9 No. 4 [1:33]
18. Kommt feins Liebchen heut‘? Op. 25 No. 4 [0:59]
19. Wandl‘ ich in dem Wald des Abends, Op. 39 No. 4 [1:14]
20. Verfehlte Liebe, Op. 20 No. 3 [1:08]
21. Am leuchtenden Sommermorgen, Op. 11 No. 2 [1:29]
22. Ich hab‘ im Traum geweinet, Op. 25 No. 3 [1:12]
23. Lieb‘ Liebchen legs Händchen, Op. 17 No. 3 [0:50]
24. Aus meinen grossen Schmerzen, Op. 5 No. 1 [1:07]
Eight songs (1846 – 1870): Mit schwarzen Segeln
25. Mit schwarzen Segeln, Op. 18 No. 6 [0:57]
26. Meerfahrt, Op. 18 No. 4 [1:24]
27. Auf dem Meere (Aus den Himmelsaugen droben) Op. 5 No. 3 [0:56]
28. Auf dem Meere (Es träumte mir) Op. 11 No. 5 [2:15]
29. Auf dem Meere (An die bretternde Schiffswand) Op. 25 No. 6 [1:15]
30. Auf dem Meere (An die blaue Himmelsdecke) Op. 6 no. 3 [1:42]
31. Auf dem Meere (Eingewiegt von Meereswellen) Op. 9 No. 6 [2:16]
32. Das Meer erstrahlt im Sonnenschein, Op. 39 No. 3 [1:15]
Franz LISZT (1811 – 1886)
Five Songs (publ. 1856–1860)
33. Im Rhein, im schönen Strome, S. 272 [3:09]
34. Morgens steh‘ ich auf und frage, S. 290 [2:08]
35. Anfangs wollt‘ ich fast verzagen, S. 311 [1:47]
36. Ein Fichtenbaumsteht einsam, S. 309 [2:52]
37. Die Loreley, S. 273 [6:19]



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