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Imre SZÉCHÉNYI (1825-1898)
Katharina Ruckgaber (soprano), Jochen Kupfer (baritone), Peter Thalheimer (csakan), Helmut Deutsch (piano)
rec. 2016, Konzerthaus zu Abtei Marienmunster
MDG AUDIOMAX SACD 903 2019-6 [71:08]

Who was Imre Széchényi? Count Imre Széchényi of Sárvár-Felsővidék was a Hungarian nobleman, diplomat and cultivated amateur composer. His international role in the diplomacy service of the Austro-Hungarian Court ensured that he was well-travelled. He was a receptive man who took an interest in the cultures of his host countries. This probably accounts for the variety of languages he set as lieder.

Reading through this disc's contents list there are only a few familiar literary names: Victor Hugo, Eichendorff, Uhland, Heine and Julius Sturm. The rest were unknown to me. The smoothly-translated (English, French and German) liner-notes are by Kálmán Széchényi and give a good overview of a very unfamiliar composer. My only criticism is that while the sung words are there, in what is an otherwise typically excellent booklet, they are not translated. This not the first Széchényi CD. Katharina Ruckgaber, who has gone about tracking down Széchényi's forgotten compositions performed on and was closely involved in Hungaroton HCD32748 which includes ten lieder not on this AudioMax disc.

What of the music? These songs, with their often unnervingly Gallic ways, will speak to those who enjoy the songs of Massenet and of the composers long pioneered by Richard Bonynge. They will find themselves in a very comfortable place. There's little trace to be heard of Hungarian folk influence except in Bölcsodal and even there it's applied with a light brush. In the Six Romances - settings of French words - Katharina Ruckgaber (who takes all but a few tracks) personifies lilting sweetness. Aubade, revels in subdued lights and has a fascinatingly downbeat piano introduction while S’il L’avait Su takes a leaf out of the classic chansons of ecstatic lassitude. By contrast Maudit Printemps is wickedly pointed.

The freestanding song, Le Rosier is something of a Mozartean serenade and deploys the homely csakan - a type of whistle-cum-flute - alongside the piano. Lŕ Bas with its contented lulling implies rising aspiration. Vorbei introduces baritone Jochen Kupfer. It's a testingly slow-paced piece where the suggestion of fatigue and sombre realms is more than just detectable. Kupfer's Waldeinsamkeit conveys a faltering heart-beat amid a dewy piano line. His stern Der Gefangene is all brooding anger curdled with a sneer. The yearning Komm, O Nacht brings us back to the delightful Ruckgaber with a passionately trilling piano part. Her Ja Winter War’s is a lovely yielding song but she brings a harsher edge to her voice in the passion of the closing pages. Der Träumende See with its stirring watery evocation ends in a beautiful pianissimo filament from this very special soprano.

Don't be surprised if you pick up a touch of operetta about these songs. You can hear this in O Komm’ In Mein Schifflein which, amid trilling sweetness, almost launches into a waltz. Il Ritrovo In Mare is a feel-good song while the final track (Es Fällt Ein Stern Herunter) is an operetta-style duet - sweet as sachertorte - for soprano and baritone.

Rob Barnett
Six Romances: (1. La Cendrillon; 2. Si J’étais Petit Oiseau; 3. Aubade; 4. S’il L’avait Su; 5. Maudit Printemps; 6. Ŕ Une Femme)
Le Rosier
Das Blatt Im Buche
Komm, O Nacht
Lŕ Bas
Der Gefangene
Erster Schnee
Ja Winter War’s
Die Lerchen
Der Träumende See
O Komm’ In Mein Schifflein
Il Ritrovo In Mare
Es Fällt Ein Stern Herunter



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