Walter BRAUNFELS (1882-1954) Orchestral Songs - Volume I Vorspiel und Prolog der Nachtigall op. 30/3 (1913) [8.16]
Zwei Hölderlin-Gesänge, op.27 (1916/18): An die Parzen op.27/1 [4.13]; Der Tod fürs Vaterland, op.27/2 [11.31] Auf ein Soldatengrab, op.26 (1915) [4.21] Abschied vom Walde, op.30/1 (1913) [5.13]
Don Juan variations, op.34 (1922/24) [34.34]
Valentina Farcas (soprano); Klaus Florian Vogt (tenor); Michael Volle (baritone)
Staatskapelle Weimar/Hansjörg Albrecht
rec. 7-11 September 2015, Redoute, Weimar, Germany OEHMS CLASSICS OC1846 [68:08]
The fortunes of German born contemporaries Walter Braunfels and Richard Strauss took very different paths. Up to 1933, Braunfels’s career had progressed extremely well, especially with the success of his opera Die Vögel (The Birds), premièred in 1920 at Munich. He was then dismissed from his official roles and withdrew from public life. As Braunfels was half Jewish, the rise of the Nazi party in Germany thwarted any chances he had of making further progress in music while placing him in serious peril of his life. It seems that in 1923, the year of the Munich Beer Hall Putsch, Braunfels had personally encountered Hitler, refusing to write him an anthem for the Brownshirts.
Braunfels’s music was virtually forgotten whereas the music of the older Richard Strauss didn’t really suffer under Nazi rule and has flourished internationally ever since. In the last decade Braunfels has risen out of the pack of unjustly neglected composers and his music is gaining a wider circulation underlined by the increasing number of recordings of his output. A landmark studio 1996 recording of Die Vögel on Decca created considerable interest together with a number of revivals of the opera most notably a 2009 staging from Los Angeles Opera filmed on DVD/Blu-ray on Arthaus Musik. Recordings that I have particularly enjoyed are both the Te Deum and Fantastic Appearances of a Theme by Hector Berlioz, which Günter Wand recorded back in 1952/53 at Köln to mark the composer’s 70th birthday and which have been reissued on Profil ‘Günter Wand Edition’ Vol. 15 & 17. More recently, conductor Manfred Honeck has been doing sterling work with Braunfels’s music, programming a number of pieces, most notably with the New York Philharmonic and Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. He also gave a short suite from the Fantastic Appearances of a Theme by Hector Berlioz at the 2011 BBC Proms.
The opening work is the Vorspiel und Prolog der Nachtigall für koloratuasopran und orchester nach Aristophanes aus der Oper Die Vögel from 1913. I note that Wilhelm Furtwängler conducted the score with the eminent Berliner Philharmoniker and soprano Maria Ivogün in December 1925. The Prelude is meltingly beautiful with the power to send a shiver down the spine, immediately and successfully setting the mood of this satisfying opera. In the Prologue of the Nightingale soprano Valentina Farcas sounds in marvellous voice, highly assured with an attractive and fluid tone.
Composed in the period 1916/18 are the Zwei Hölderlin-Gesänge für bariton und orchester to Friedrich Hölderlin texts. The first song the squally An die Parzen (To the Fates) contains a sense of real drama, with baritone Michael Volle, noted for his Wotan, Hans Sachs and Scarpia, excelling with his firm expressive voice. Song two, Der Tod fürs Vaterland (Death for the Fatherland), is also imbued with considerable excitement in which Volle demonstrates considerable passion. Striking is the Elgar-like nobility which Braunfels creates in music that is stormy with considerable angst. Special, too, is the way Volle lowers his voice to a tender whisper which contrasts delightfully with the dramatic ending.
Written in 1915 to a Hermann Hesse text, Auf ein Soldatengrab (On a soldier’s grave) is warmly romantic in the manner of Richard Strauss. Volle is in quite wonderful voice expressing the intense pain of losing a friend on the battlefield. In the final orchestral song Abschied vom Walde (Farewell to the Forest) für tenor und orchester nach Aristophanes aus der Oper Die Vögel, renowned Wagnerian tenor Klaus Florian Vogt demonstrates his undoubted prowess and his distinctive voice displays attractiveness and clean focus.
Known as the Don Juan Variations, the score for large orchestra subtitled Eine klassisch-romantische Phantasmagorie was composed in 1922/24. The basis of the score is the memorable theme of the Fin ch' han dal vino known as the Champagne Aria from Mozart’s Don Giovanni. It is described in the booklet essay as “not an orchestral song in the strict sense, but a song without words, an aria for orchestra.” Notably, in November 1924 the Berliner Philharmoniker performed the score under Wilhelm Furtwängler. This is a thrilling work that reminded me of the vitality and imagination of Mendelssohn with all the orchestral brilliance of a Richard Strauss tone poem. Under the baton of Hansjörg Albrecht, the Staatskapelle Weimar plays extremely well and consistently, with the horns and heavy brass sounding magnificent.
Recorded at Redoute, the interim location of the German National Theater, Weimar, the sound team has provided clear, cool sound with a slight echo audible. The helpful booklet essay, Of Love, War and Extraordinary Wife by Dr. Eva Gesina Baur, is provided in an English translation. Inexplicably omitted are the crucial English translations of the German text, which annoyingly prevents understanding the meaning of Braunfels’ settings.
Intended for autumn 2016 release is the second volume, this time with Hansjörg Albrecht conducting the renowned Konzerthausorchester Berlin with the trio of soprano soloists Genia Kühmeier, Camilla Nylund and Ricarda Merbeth on Oehms Classics OC1847.