Maureen Forrester (contralto) - Portrait
Works by various composers
rec. 1955-1963, Studio 7, RIAS Funkhaus, Berlin
AUDITE 21.437 [3 CDs: 190:04]

I first became acquainted with the artistry of Maureen Forrester (1930-2010) from a 2 CD set issued by Vanguard Classics (SVC-64/65). It featured the singer in music by Bach and Handel with the Zagreb Soloists under Antonio Janigro. One particular work immediately won me over, Bach’s Cantata BWV 54 Widerstehe doch der Sünde, and it’s something I’ve returned to often. The contralto voice has suffered something of a decline since the war, and has acquired a reputation in some quarters as sounding plummy and matronly. Whilst the profile of Kathleen Ferrier has remained high, Maureen Forrester’s popularity has tended to be restricted to specialists. One reason was that, like Ferrier, she felt more comfortable in the concert hall rather than on the operatic stage. Her career spanned forty years and, throughout, her technique remained largely unimpaired. Maybe there was a slight loss in brilliance of tone towards the end, but her instinctive phrasing, well-controlled vibrato and flawless intonation withstood the test of time.

These recordings are here making their first outing on CD, and they come via the Berlin RIAS studios, which were located at the time in the city’s American sector. They were taped between 1955 and 1963. Their value lies in the fact that they explore lieder with piano accompaniment, an area under-represented in Forrester’s discography. The selection is wide-ranging, featuring composers from Johann Wolfgang Franck and Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach to Samuel Barber and Benjamin Britten. Forrester also travels some less trodden paths. For instance, in the Schubert selection, she avoids the more popular songs, even performing one or two that I’d never heard before. Similarly with the Schumann, she opts for the less well-known late lieder. The earliest recitals were set down in 1955, and here her accompanist was Michael Raucheisen. In 1958 when she returned to the RIAS Studio, Raucheisen had by this time retired, so Felix Schröder partnered her, apparently standing in at the last minute for Aribert Reimann. In the two final sessions in March 1960 and September 1963, she is accompanied by Hertha Klust, who achieved some fame for her collaborations with Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau.

There’s much here to enchant, so I thought I would highlight some of the gems that have attracted me. I’m pleased that we have her singing the two C.P.E. Bach songs. Jesus in Gethsemane is a particular favourite of mine, and rarely performed. I first got to know it in an enthralling account by Gérard Souzay on Testament (SBT 1315). Her Wesendonck Lieder have to be one of the finest renditions I’ve heard. From the very beginning, Der Engel is delivered with matchless beauty, Forrester’s rich warm, velvety tone deeply compelling. Träume is ardent and delicately shaded. Brahms’ Gypsy Songs Op. 103 (originally for vocal quartet), of which eight have been chosen, are spirited and rhythmically buoyant, benefiting from the lusty, involved contribution of Hertha Klust. The pair breathe new life and affection into these genial miniatures. Forrester projects Britten’s A Charm of Lullabies, Op. 41 with clarity and definition, and not only infuses the songs with a sense of drama but is fully responsive to the nuances that lie therein. The anger depicted in the fourth song Quiet, sleep! Or I will make Erinys whip thee with a snake! contrasts strongly with the soothing qualities of The Nurse’s Song which ends the cycle.

Barber’s Mélodies passagères were written in the early 1950s for Pierre Bernac and Francis Poulenc. They are settings of poems in French by the German poet Rainer Maria Rilke, and are the composer’s homage to French mélodie, with permeating hints of Debussy and Fauré. I’ve never heard them before, but Forrester’s subtle, idiomatic performances are a winning element. Klust’s sensitive, colourfully shaded accompaniments add further to the allure. The two Poulenc cycles further reinforce the impression that the singer is securely housed in her comfort zone in this repertoire.

It was Bruno Walter who introduced Forrester to Gustav Mahler’s vocal oeuvre, and he wanted to record the Austrian composer’s music with her. As both artists were hide-bound to different recording companies, Forrester had just signed a three year contract with RCA, and Walter was a CBS artist, the project remained unfulfilled. She did however record Das Lied von der Erde with Reiner in Chicago (RCA), Kindertotenlieder with Munch in Boston (RCA) and Des Knaben Wunderhorn with Prohaska in Vienna (Vanguard). Nevertheless, we have Forrester here in Five Songs by Friedrich Rückert. She has a natural affinity for Mahler’s sound-world, her bronzed tone ideally suited to this music. She can also be heard with Walter in Symphony No. 2 Resurrection (review review) and in the same work with Slatkin.

This is an outstanding production, and certainly fills a lacuna in the artist’s discography. All the recordings have been well-preserved and the sound throughout is consistent, vibrant and immediate. I must commend Audite on their excellent annotations in German and English. Written by Heribert Henrich and translated by David Babcock, they provide not only a detailed biographical portrait of the artist, but interesting background as to the genesis of the recordings. This splendid 3 CD set would grace any vocal collection.

Stephen Greenbank
Complete track-list
CD 1 [62:26]
Gustav MAHLER (1860-1911)
Five Songs by Friedrich Rückert
Ich atmet’ einen linden Duft [2:28]
Liebst du um Schönheit [2:12]
Blicke mir nicht in die Lieder [1:30]
Ich bin derWelt abhanden gekommen [6:12]
Um Mitternacht [6:04]
Hertha Klust, (piano): 31 March 1960
Carl LOEWE (1796-1869)
Four Songs from Op. 9
Meine Ruh ist hin, III/2 [2:22]
Ach neige, du Schmerzenreiche, IX/1 [3:55]
Die Lotosblume, I/1 [2:32]
Das Ständchen, II/4 [2:59]
Michael Raucheisen, (piano): 14 Dec 1955
Richard WAGNER (1813-1883)
Gretchen am Spinnrade, WWV 15/6 [2:07]
Michael Raucheisen, (piano): 14 Dec 1955
Richard WAGNER
Wesendonck Lieder, WWV 91 I.
Der Engel [2:49] II.
Stehe still [3:04] III.
Im Treibhaus [4:57] IV.
Schmerzen [2:26] V.
Träume [4:31]
Michael Raucheisen, (piano): 14 Dec 1955
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Eight Gypsy Songs from Op. 103
I. He, Zigeuner, greife in die Saiten ein [1:07]
II. Hochgetürmte Rimaflut [1:27]
III. Wißt ihr, wann mein Kindchen [1:26]
IV. Lieber Gott, du weißt [1:22]
V. Brauner Bursche führt zum Tanze [1:32]
VI. Röslein dreie in der Reihe [1:26]
VII. Kommt Dir manchmal in den Sinn [2:19]
VIII. Rote Abendwolken ziehn [1:27]
Hertha Klust, (piano): 9 Sept 1963

CD2 [60:11]
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Die Allmacht, D. 852 [4:46]
DerWachtelschlag, D. 742 [2:02]
Dem Unendlichen, D. 291 [4:21]
Die junge Nonne, D. 828 [4:54]
Fragment aus dem Äschylus, D. 450 [2:41]
Verklärung, D. 59 [3:33]
Auflösung, D. 807 [2:28]
Schlaflied, D. 527 [2:47]
Bertas Lied in der Nacht, D. 653 [3:41]
An den Mond, D. 296 [4:34]
Schwestergruß, D. 762 [5:11]
Michael Raucheisen, (piano): 7 Dec 1955
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Jemand, Op. 25/4 [1:47]
Das verlassene Mägdlein, Op. 64/2 [1:57]
DieWaise, Op. 79/15 [1:56]
Weihnachtslied, Op. 79/17 [1:58]
Die wandelnde Glocke, Op. 79/18 [2:06]
Michael Raucheisen, (piano): 14 Dec 1955
Gedichte der Königin Maria Stuart, Op. 135
1. Adieu à la France [1:45]
II. Après la naissance de son fils [1:25]
III. A la Reine Elisabeth [1:33]
IV. Adieu au monde [2:48]
V. Prière [1:46]
Michael Raucheisen, (piano): 7 Dec 1955

CD 3 [67:27]
Carl Philipp Emanuel BACH (1714-1788) ed. Arne Dørumsgaard
Jesus in Gethsemane, H 752/29 [4:26]
Weihnachtslied, H 749/11 [2:37]
Felix Schröder, (piano): 18 Sept 1958
Johann WolfgangFRANCK (1644-1710) ed. Arne Dørumsgaard
Sei nur still [1:50]
Auf, auf zu Gottes Lob [1:41]
Felix Schröder, (piano): 18 Sept 1958
Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809) ed. Ernst Frank
Arianna a Naxos, Hob. XXVIb:2 [18:16]
Hertha Klust, (piano): 31 March 1960
Benjamin BRITTEN (1913-1976)
A Charm of Lullabies, Op. 41
I. A Cradle Song [2:03]
II. The Highland Balou [1:54]
III. Sephestia’s Lullaby [1:50]
IV. A Charm [1:39]
V. The Nurse’s Song [3:28]
Felix Schröder, (piano): 18 Sept 1958
Samuel BARBER (1910-1981)
*Mélodies Passagères, Op. 27
I. Puisque tout passe [1:12]
III. Tombeau dans un parc [1:28]
II. Un cygne 2:07 V. Départ [1:26]
IV. Le clocher chante [1:18]
Hertha Klust, (piano): 9 Sept 1963
Francis POULENC (1899-1963)
La Fraîcheur et le Feu, FP 147
I. Rayon des yeux [1:11]
II. Le matin les branches attisent [0:43]
III. Tout disparut [1:43]
IV. Dans les ténèbres du jardin [0:27]
V. Unis la fraîcheur et le feu [1:16]
VI. Homme au sourire tendre [1:54]
VII. La grande rivière qui va [0:51]
Felix Schröder, piano recording: 18 Sept 1958
Le Travail du Peintre, FP 161
I. Pablo Picasso [2:17]
II. Marc Chagall [1:14]
III. Georges Braque [1:37]
IV. Juan Gris [2:08]
V. Paul Klee [0:48]
VI. Joan Miró [1:43]
VII. Jacques Villon [2:06]
Hertha Klust (piano): 31 March 1960

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