Das ewige Rätsel (L’enigme eternelle)
Johannes Martin Kränzle (baritone), Hilko Dumno (piano)
rec. 2017 at Festburgkirche, Frankfurt
Sung texts with German translations enclosed
OEHMS CLASSICS OC1887 [69:04]
The German baritone Johannes Martin Kränzle, now in his mid-50s, has had a long and important operatic career, singing some 120 roles in most of the world’s big opera houses and festivals. I have previously hailed him for a good Malvolino in von Flotow’s Alessandro Stradella and an even better Gunther in Sebastian Weigle’s recording of Götterdämmerung (review). But he has also had a parallel career as concert singer and recitalist, and the present CD is certainly a highly attractive proposition, for the singing as well as the repertoire. “The Eternal Question” – the title of the recital – of course concerns the end of life and – possibly: is there an afterlife? The songs here touch upon these questions and the programme begins and ends with variations on the same Yiddish text, set by two composers from cultures wide apart and times wide apart – but they meet in this eternal question and thus the circle is closed.
The opening cycle, by the little known German composer Richard Rudolf Klein, was composed within just a few days during the Christmas holidays in 1983. The composer was given a collection of texts “Lieder aus dem Ghetto” (Songs from the Ghetto), and he immediately was fascinated: “The colourful images of Jewish life were what fascinated me, and the mentality of these people moved me deeply”. His inspiration obviously flowed unimpededly, and the result was musically just as colourful as the texts with charming melodiousness, sometimes burlesque, sometimes verging on the sentimental, sometimes close to cabaret songs but all the time accessible, harmonically thrilling, full of humour and seriousness. They are difficult to label, they are off the beaten track, there is warmth and inwardness – they are like life itself, full of contrasts. These are definitely my find of the year!
The world premiere in Frankfurt in 1985 was performed by Johannes Martin Kränzle at the suggestion of his teacher Martin Gründler, and Kränzle says: “The Lieder impressively describe everyday life – the customs, wisdom and special qualities of the Jewish religious community. They depict life in the Jewish Schtetl with vividness and directness.”
The songs in themselves are highly original and attractive, something that is further enhanced by the wonderful singing by Kränzle. He has a beautiful, manly voice, powerful and nuanced, rhythmically alert and expressive – and his enunciation is crystal clear. Moreover his cooperation with Hilko Dumno is organic – they seem like twin souls.
These characteristics also concern the rest of the programme. Gustav Mahler’s songs have long been adopted in the standard repertoire – though they took some time to be accepted, but Mahler famously predicted “My time will come”. Himself of Jewish origin he often cited Jewish melodies and rhythms in his works, also in these six Wunderhorn songs, which are true gems, and Kränzle catches the essence of them just as wonderfully as in the Klein cycle. He approaches these folk music inspired songs with lightness and open-eyed curiosity, wonderful (I repeatedly jotted down that word during my listening session) soft singing and outgoing exuberance. This is Mahler singing of the highest order.
Frank Martin’s “Six Monologues from Everyman”, texts by Hugo von Hofmannsthal, are among the most gripping and at the same time frightening in the whole song repertoire. They describe the psychological development of a young man from the fear of death to the insight that he has earned God’s mercy. Musically they are not easily accessible but repeated listening reveal the greatness and today they are among Martin’s most performed works. About half a year ago I reviewed a CD where Heinz Rehfuss sang them accompanied by the composer, recorded only a dozen years after the premiere, and that recording has claims to be the most authoritative of any. But Johannes Martin Kränzle has lived with these songs for many years and has peered deep into them and his singing is so intense and strong that it is difficult to defend oneself against the emotions. His reading is worthy a place by the side of Rehfuss and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau.
The concluding songs by Maurice Ravel are just as finely sung as the rest and, as I hinted at above, ties together beginning and end – the eternal question which remains unanswered. For, as Mareike Wink says in the excellent liner notes: “some of life’s questions will always remain unanswerable.”
An utterly satisfying recital that should be in every song enthusiast’s collection – and Richard Rudolf Klein’s Zwölf Lieder nach alten Jiddischen Weisen is my find of the year!
Richard Rudolf KLEIN (1921 – 2011)
Zwölf Lieder nach alten Jiddischen Weisen (1983):
1. Die alte Kasche [1:52]
2. ‚s nit do kejn Nachtn [1:52]
3. Rois, Rois, wie wait bist du? [1:56]
4. Kudaj jiddisch! [1:08]
5. Is gekummen der Vetter Nossn [1:00]
6. Sog mir, du schejn Mejdele [4:05]
7. Bist du mit mir brojges? [1:04]
8. Dennoch frejlech [1:37]
9. Er soll lebn! [1:37]
10. Der Rebbe tanzt [1:12]
11. A Chasn oif Schabbes [3:47]
12. Der Opschijd [2:36]
Gustav MAHLER (1860 – 1911)
Sechs Lieder aus Des Knaben Wunderhorn (1892 – 1898):
13. Rheinlegendchen [2:55]
14. Scheiden und meiden [2:34]
15. Nicht wiedersehen! [4:20]
16. Trost im Unglück [2:42]
17. Der Tamboursg’sell [6:06]
18. Selbstgefühl [1:49]
Frank MARTIN (1890 – 1974)
Sechs Monologe aus Jedermann (1943):
19. I. Ist alls zu End das Freudenmahl [3:35]
20. II. Ach Gott, wie graust mir vor dem Tod [3:52]
21. III. Ist, als wenn eins gerufen hätt [2:18]
22. IV. So wollt ich ganz zernichtet sein [2:21]
23. V. Ja! Ich glaub: Solches hat er vollbracht [2:37]
24. VI. O ewiger Gott! O göttliches Gesicht! [3:59]
Maurice RAVEL (1875 – 1937)
Deux mélodies Hébraiques (1914):
25. Kaddish [4:19]
26. L’énigme éternelle [1:43]