Robert SCHUMANN (1810 – 1856)
Liederkreis Op. 39 [25:33]
Hugo WOLF (1860 – 1903)
Lieder auf Texte von Joseph von Eichendorff [37:41]
Gustav MAHLER (1860 – 1911)
Des Knaben Wunderhorn (selections) [37:07]
Lieder auf Texte von Friedrich Rückert (selections) [12:44]
Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen [16:34]
Christoph Prégardien (tenor)
Michael Gees (piano)
rec. 2005/6, Funkhaus, Köln, Germany
HÄNSSLER HC19006 [63:20 + 66:33]
The German lyric tenor Christoph Prégardien is well-documented on records, as opera singer, oratorio soloist and, most of all I believe, as one of the most prominent Lieder singers of the last 30 years. His complete discography encompasses about 120 recordings, and last year (2018) he made his first disc as baritone singer. The present issue was however recorded in 2005 and 2006, a collaboration with Michael Gees, with whom he has appeared and recorded quite extensively. I never heard the two discs when they were first issued, but knowing Prégardien’s capacity from several other recordings I was well aware of what to expect, and I can only say that he was up to the mark.
The first disc juxtaposes Schumann and Hugo Wolf with settings of poems by Joseph von Eichendorff (1788 – 1857), one of the most prominent German poets during the 19th century. Schumann’s Liederkreis op. 39 belongs to the hyper-productive Lieder year 1840, when most of his song cycles were created, and all the 12 songs in the present cycle are real gems. Prégardien’s soft, slightly plaintive tenor is ideally suited to Schumann and this recording from 2005 catches him at the zenith of his achievements: lively, sensitive, nuanced. Just listen to Die Stille (CD 1 tr. 4) to see what I mean. His exquisite legato singing in Mondnacht (CD 1 tr. 5) is the answer to one’s dreams and his half-voice is superb. There is glow in his voice in Schöne Fremde (CD 1 tr. 6) and do listen carefully to his careful reading of Auf einer Burg (CD 1 tr. 7) with exceptionally clear enunciation, and we mustn’t forget Michael Gees’s sensitive accompaniment. His mercurial In der Fremde (CD 1 tr. 8) is wholly enticing. His hushed singing of the last few songs with the voice shivering of emotion is masterly, but also the energetic opening of Im Walde (CD 1 tr. 11) and the lively Frühlingsnacht (CD 1 tr. 12) with its uproarious accompaniment. This is a reading of Liederkreis to stand with the very best.
That Prégardien also has some steel and dramatic power in his armoury is obvious in the Wolf settings. He begins in his softest mood with the beautiful Nachruf (CD 1 tr. 13), a song I have overlooked. The interplay between voice and piano is particularly attractive. The three In der Fremde offer more intensity, but always strictly controlled. Rückkehr (CD 1 tr. 17) is lighter of tone than most of Wolf’s songs. In Die Nacht (CD 1 tr. 18) the nuances are so carefully weighted, while in Der Freund (CD 1 tr. 19) with its exuberant dramatic accompaniment, he throws the carefulness over board and adopts some bigger gestures. Der Musikant (CD 1 tr. 20) is suitably jolly and the lightness of touch is endearing. Verschwiegene Liebe (CD 1. Tr. 21) is one of Wolf’s loveliest songs and Prégardien is here so soft and inward. Das Ständchen (CD 1 Tr. 22) is jolly and elegant, Der Soldat II (CD 1 tr. 23) is short and intense, and Heimweh, Seemans Abschied and Der Scholar (CD 1 tr. 24-26) are strong and confident. In the concluding Nachtzauber (CD 1 tr. 28) there is more than just a couple of drops of impressionism.
The second disc, recorded in 2006 is entirely devoted to Gustav Mahler. The songs from Des Knaben Wunderhorn are prime examples of Pregardien’s flexible art of story-telling. He can colour his voice to express widely different moods and situations. Des Antonius von Padua Fischpredigt is masterly in that respect. Lob des hohen Verstands is highly spirited and then he sings the beautiful Rheinlegendchen so lovingly. Der Tamboursg’sell is certainly burlesque but not over-the-top. Wo die schönen Trompeten blasen is soft and inward and then he rounds off this Wunderhorn section with Revelge, and he has all the heft needed for this outgoing militaristic romp with rhythmic springiness, while Michael Gees wallows in the bouncy accompaniment.
There is a long leap in mood from this larger-than-life song to Rückert’s Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen, one of the most inward and otherworldly songs in the whole literature. Prégardien is truly sensitive here, although he can’t quite challenge Janet Baker’s legendary recordings with Barbirolli – but they were of course made with orchestra. In his own right Prégardien’s reading is highly satisfying, and so is Um Mitternacht, which grows to a mighty crescendo. Urlicht is another otherworldly song, best known in its symphonic shape as the fourth movement of his Symphony No. 2, also titled The Resurrection Symphony. There it is sung by a contralto, a voice that is more rounded and warm as any tenor. But again, comparisons aside, Prégardien’s Urlicht is very beautiful.
Competition is also stiff when it comes to Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen. The cycle is permeated with melancholy, and Christoph Prégardian’s slightly plaintive tone catches this mood very well. He also has the power for the agonized third song Ich hab ein glühend Messer.
The balance between voice and piano seems ideal to me, and the only drawback with this issue is the Spartan presentation: a simple folded inlay with the song titles, timings and track-numbers. No texts and no liner notes. But the texts with translations can with some patience be gathered online and what counts most is the superlative music making.