Franz LISZT (1811-1886)
The Complete Songs - Volume 5
Allan Clayton (tenor)
Julius Drake (piano)
rec. 2016/17, Potton Hall, Dunwich; All Saints’ Church, East Finchley, UK
HYPERION CDA68179 [63:09]
Hyperion’s series of Liszt’s complete songs is one of its most valuable. For all the many fascinating discoveries in Leslie Howard’s great complete Liszt piano music, the greatest works were well known and played before, and Hyperion’s other song series have mainly focussed on composers already at the heart of the recitalist’s repertoire. Here though we keep encountering music which, while not unknown to singers, is heard much less often than it merits. But Liszt wrote songs intermittently all his life, and as with the piano music, revised them more than once, giving rise to first and later versions co-existing still. This series clearly aims to be comprehensive in this respect, as was the huge solo piano series. Perhaps this has the advantage that the best or best-known songs can be given to more than one singer, avoiding the sensitivities that Graham Johnson must have had to manage with Hyperion’s Complete Schubert Songs. Certainly this programme is a compelling one, with several of Liszt’s finest songs, even if not all are in the most familiar version.
But there are also different settings of the same poem as well as different versions of the same setting. Thus with Freudvoll und leidvoll (from Goethe’s Egmont) we have the first setting, (in its first version) as well as the second setting. There could hardly be such different responses to the very same text. The first is reflective and takes over 3 minutes, while the second is turbulent and swift, despatched in 76 seconds and easily the shortest item on the disc. (The second version of the first setting – do keep up - can be found on volume 2 of the series, sung by Angelika Kirchschlager.)
Clayton’s familiar excellent qualities are in evidence throughout. His basic sound is alluring of course, and there is a caressing line in the lyrical settings such as Über allen Gipfeln ist Ruh' (Goethe’s Wandrers Nachtlied), where the tenor and pianist distil the essence of its philosophical inwardness, and at the close Clayton makes exquisite use of dreamy head voice. He also has the narrative skill of the operatic singer in the longest songs, Die Lorelei and Ich möchte hingehn. The former is one of the best-known, and the latter one of the best, of all Liszt’s songs, but not many earlier recordings eclipse these. Alan Clayton just sounds so involved, button-holing the listener like a lieder-singing Ancient Mariner.
Liszt, who knew everyone because everyone wanted to know him, liked to hang out with Victor Hugo in his early years in Paris. In fact although German was Liszt’s first language (he never learned Hungarian), he came to prefer French. His Four Settings of Victor Hugo are all included here in their first versions of 1842-44. Oh! quand je dors is one of the loveliest of all, tenderly sung by Clayton, whose sung French sounds as persuasive as his German (at least to a non-native). Lieder collectors will know this song perhaps and have other favourite recordings of it, but they will still find that Clayton’s account adds something to their understanding.
The ensuing Comment, disaient-ils is a fast-paced drama with a melismatic cadential flourish that has Clayton showing some strain. In fact there are just a few moments on the disc when at the top of the voice, Clayton is more concerned to convey the drama of the setting rather than preserve impeccable vocal manners. One such occurs at the climax of that passionate outpouring O lieb, so lang du lieben kannst (Liszt’s best known melody in its piano transcription as Liebesträume No 3). But given the quasi-operatic manner of many Liszt songs this is the right artistic choice, even if it means he doesn’t always sound born to sing all this repertoire in the way Matthew Polenzani does on volume 1, probably still the most essential disc of the series. But overall, this is well up to the high standard of the previous instalments, and has more than enough delights to justify its acquisition even by those not concerned to collect the whole series.
Julius Drake is superb throughout, able to surmount all the keyboard difficulties encountered in some of these works (especially the earlier versions – later Liszt often adjusted the piano writing for mortals). Moreover he can play the introductions in a way that draws us into the piece even before the voice sounds, and collaborate closely with his singer in creating the mood – and this recital has quite a range of moods. The recorded sound, as always with Hyperion in smaller scale music, is ideal, intimate without being too close, as if we are in a small recital room. I could detect no differences in sound between the two venues used. The American musicologist Susan Youens, a great authority on the 19th century song repertoire, contributes another excellent, illuminating booklet note, very informative about poets and texts as well as the music. As ever, texts and translations are included.
A colleague reviewing Volume 4 of this series regretted that different versions of the songs are kept apart by being placed on different volumes, denying the listener the chance easily to hear Liszt refining his thoughts. For those who don’t want to collect a whole series but still wish to compare versions, there is a 2010 disc from Hungaroton called “Liszt and Liszt; Songs in Different Versions” which used three singers. It might now be hard to find as discs from that label sometimes are. But there are other fine song recital discs devoted to Liszt, such as the following from three female artists; Diana Damrau (2011 Virgin Classics), Ruth Ziesak (2008 Berlin Classics), and Brigitte Fasbaender (1992 Decca). However the overlap in repertoire between these illustrates yet another reason why we need this Hyperion series.
1. Freudvoll und leidvoll S280 First setting, first version[3'07]
2. Freudvoll und leidvoll S280 Second setting[1'16]
3. Die Lorelei S273 Fourth version Ich weiß nicht, was soll's bedeuten[7'17]
4. Über allen Gipfeln ist Ruh' S306 First version[4'03]
5. Jugendglück S323 O süßer Zauber im Jugendmut[1'53]
6. Du bist wie eine Blume S287 Second version[2'28]
7. Die Zelle in Nonnenwerth S274 Third version Ach, nun taucht die Klosterzelle[5'01]
8. An Edlitam S333 In meinem Lebensringe[2'20]
FOUR SETTINGS OF VICTOR HUGO
9. Oh! quand je dors S282 First version[4'55]
10. Comment, disaient-ils S276 First version[2'00]
11. Enfant, si j'étais roi S283 First version[3'14]
12. S'il est un charmant gazon S284 First version[2'57]
13. Ich liebe dich S315[3'08]
14. Morgens steh' ich auf und frage S290 First version[2'16]
15. Ich möchte hingehn S296 Second version[8'00]
16. Hohe Liebe S307 In Liebesarmen ruht ihr trunken[1'48]
17. Gestorben war ich S308[2'28]
18. O lieb, so lang du lieben kannst S298 Second version[4'51]