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Karola Theill (piano)
Fionnuala McCarthy (soprano)
Klaus Häger (baritone)
rec. 2012, Osnabrück Castle, Germany
Les Musiciens et la Grande Guerre - Volume 22 HORTUS 722 [65:40]
I have enjoyed several discs in this ongoing series from Hortus. All are characterised by fascinating programmes meticulously researched and beautifully presented. So it proves again here, with the catalogues of fifteen different composers providing eighteen songs focusing on the horrors of War. The fact that these composers came from all sides of the conflict simply serves to underline the universality of war and its impact. In purely musical terms how often are Puccini and Lehár juxtaposed against Webern and Ives in such a coherent and effective manner?
Unlike other volumes, this disc is taken from a live concert courtesy of Deutschlandradio Kultur and the engineers have done a very good job finding an excellent balance between the warmly recorded piano and the solo voices . For a live concert it is very good with almost no audience noise during the performing and no retained applause - some of the tracks are cut with considerable abruptness to avoid the applause I assume. Karola Theill is the hard-working and sensitive accompanist throughout with the singing duties shared between baritone Klaus Häger and soprano Fionnuala McCarthy. The longest piece here is Lehár's Fieber which exists on a CPO disc in its orchestral form with the sung line taken by a tenor. No matter how well Theill plays, the piano is no substitute for an orchestra and Häger here sounds rather earth-bound and lacking the 'fever' of the mortally wounded soldier lying in hospital. Another song that suffers from the lack of the orchestral accompaniment is the last of Strauss' Op.68 Bretano settings Lied der Frauen. Here it is not just that the piano cannot hope to reproduce the dynamic sweep of one of Strauss' most dramatic songs, in addition, McCarthy's voice does not generate the flow of rich tone that Edita Gruberova does ecstatically riding the wave of the LSO under Michael Tilson-Thomas. In direct comparison McCarthy is rather wanting and lacking in tonal allure.
Conversely, the starkness of the Webern and Eisler settings suit the format and the artists very well indeed. Alongside these rather searching and unsettling songs Parry's hearty A Hymn for Aviators comes across as being as banal as the verse it sets; "be with them traversing the air, in dark'ning storm or sunshine fair." But of course that is the function and fascination of such a compilation. I did not know Ives' setting of the famous "In Flanders Fields" from 1917 - a curiously 'straight' song for a composer known for his quirky individuality even allowing for its allusions to the Marseillaise and apparent quotations from songs of the War of Independence. Likewise, it is very striking to hear a pacifist composer such as Schreker shorn of his usual orchestral opulence producing a powerfully compact critique of war's brutality. Similarly it is fascinating to hear the young Hindemith writing a post-war setting of a translation of Whitman's famous "Beat Beat Drums" - the same poem set so memorably by Vaughan Williams in his great choral work Dona Nobis Pacem.
Part of the delight of these discs has been the accompanying documentation. Not only are the standard full texts and artist biographies supplied but also there are fascinating essays focusing on different elements of the artistic response to the Great War. This time there is a discussion on the significance of patriotic postcards in the war and the booklet illustrates some examples. Although this is not directly related to the recital it markedly increases the pleasure of engaging with this entire endeavour.
By its very nature this is a unique programme conceived with great care and insight - as indeed have all the discs in this series. Great credit must go to the artistic directors of the series that they have reached volume 22 and the standards are still so high. Only a slight hesitation over the vocal allure of the singers involved stops this from being unreservedly recommended, but for content alone, this is as interesting a song recital as any I have heard in some time.
Contents Franz SCHREKER (1878-1934)
Lieder aus der Reifezeit - Das feurige Männlein (1915) [1:26] Charles IVES (1874-1954)
In Flanders Fields (1917) [2:28] Josef Bohuslav FOERSTER (1859-1951)
Drei Lieder aus der Kriegszeit op. 97 - Nacht im Felde (1915) [2:19] Franz LEHÁR (1870-1948)
Aus eiserner Zeit - Fieber (Tondichtung) (1915) [13:20] Giacomo PUCCINI (1858-1924)
Morire? (1917)[2:50] Anton WEBERN (1883-1945)
Vier Lieder für Gesang und Klavier op.12:
Der Tag ist vergangen (1915/17) [1:31]
Schien mir’s, als sah ich die Sonne (1915/17) [1:48] Hans PFITZNER (1869-1949)
5 Lieder op. 26 - Trauerstille (1916) [4:01] Charles Hubert Hastings PARRY (1848-1918)
A Hymn for Aviators (1915) [2:51] Ruggero LEONCAVALLO (1857-1919)
La Victoire est à nous (1915) [2:52] Franz LEHÁR (1870-1948)
Aus eiserner Zeit - Ich hab ein Hüglein in Polenland (1915) [2:34] Jean DE LIZE (??)
Guerres maudites par les Mères [2:45] Erich Wolfgang KORNGOLD (1897-1957)
Sechs Einfache Lieder op. 9 - Das Heldengrab am Pruth (1916) [3:13] Hanns EISLER (1898-1962)
Dumpfe Trommel und berauschtes Gong: Der müde Soldat [4:11]; Die rote und die weiße Rose [3:03] Paul HINDEMITH (1895-1963)
3 Hymnen op. 14 - Schlagt! Schlagt! Trommeln!(1919) [3:36] Felix WEINGARTNER (1863-1942)
Freiheitsgesang op. 67 (1918) [2:28] Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949)
6 Lieder op. 68 - Lied der Frauen (1918) [8:13]