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Johannes BRAHMS (1833- 1897)
The Complete Songs - Volume 9
Robin Tritschler (tenor)
Harriet Burns (soprano)
Graham Johnson (piano)
rec. 2018, All Saints’ Church, East Finley, London
HYPERION CDJ33129 [74:13]

In my review of Volume 8 in this series, in which Harriet Burns did almost all the singing but Robin Tritschler joined her in a handful of duets, I observed “Robin Tritschler’s contributions to four of the Deutsche Volkslieder are a considerable asset, and one hopes are a harbinger of a future volume of his own in this series.” Here indeed is the ensuing volume, this time with Tritschler having top billing and Harriet Burns the walk-on part in five songs.

The programme, as with others in the series, is broadly chronological and covers much of the composer’s song-writing career. Earlier volumes have included one complete publication but that is not the case here. Rather we seem to have a selection that focuses on the lyrical and folk-like, thus playing to several of Robin Tritschler’s particular strengths, not least a certain fresh directness of interpretation, if interpretation is the word for such unmannered and non-interventionist singing. Much is achieved though Tritschler’s care for line and tone and word-meaning, without seeming on first hearing to do much more than deliver what is written. But this is an art that conceals art, and this particular selection of items is supremely well served by it. Of course he is blessed with the most appealing vocal charm, instantly recognisable, and an instinctive feeling for style. But here the honey-toned Irish troubadour comes of age as a great lieder singer.

From the outset Robin Tritschler finds the trick to unlock each song’s meaning. His skilful legato distils the essential stillness in Mondnacht, before the soul takes wing in the third stanza. Brahms’ antique minnesinger manner of Vom verwundeten Knaben has the ideal balladeer in such an exquisitely poised tenor sound. But he can find the colour for darker moments too, as in the final ghostly repetition of “Stätte des Nichts” (‘place of nothingness’) from In der Gasse. This song also offers a fine demonstration of the singer’s immaculate control of dynamics. The most famous song on the disc is Vergebliches Ständchen, sung here in its duet version, with the excellent Harriet Burns, and all the better for it. The duets with Burns include three of the nine folksongs from the Deutsche Volkslieder collection at the end of the disc. The musical manners here are perfect for the material, relishing the charm without burdening the pieces with more meaning than they will bear.

Almost every song on this disc is ideally realised, such that even in the more familiar numbers these interpretations could match or even displace old favourites, as with Tritschler’s treatment of Sonntag or Feldeinsamkeit. One exception might be Entführung, its miniature tale of abduction with implied rape being, as Johnson writes in the usual full and scholarly notes, “all about power”. There I might still just prefer Fischer-Dieskau, whose later vocal manner sometimes included a (usually unwelcome) sense of bluster that here seems especially apposite, and Barenboim’s playing of the galloping triplets is very fluent too (DGG 1983). They despatch the piece in just 1:15, but Tritschler and Johnson bring their own insights in taking a little more time (1:28). Graham Johnson’s splendid pianism is the rock on which all this musical sublimity is founded, as ever, and the usual fine Hyperion recorded sound has the right degree of intimacy for the recital room.
The very brief Maienkätzchen is available as a free download from Hyperion’s website if you want to sample the disc. But I will be surprised if it does not make you wish to own the whole album, which is very highly recommended. After six years or so of reviewing for this site, I have yet to suggest an unassailable personal ‘record of the year’ for MusicWeb’s annual listing. Now I have one before May is out.
Roy Westbrook

Previous review: Göran Forsling

1 Mondnacht WoO21 Es war, als hätt' der Himmel[3'03]
2 In der Fremde Aus der Heimat hinter den Blitzen rot (No 5 of Sechs Gesänge, Op 3)[1'21] 3 Lied Lindes Rauschen in den Wipfeln (No 6 of Sechs Gesänge,Op3)[2'07]
4 Der Frühling Es lockt und säuselt um den Baum (No 2 of Sechs Gesänge, Op 6)[3'32]
5 Nachtigallen schwingen (No 6 of Sechs Gesänge, Op 6)[2'17]
6 Vom verwundeten Knaben Es wollt ein Mädchen früh aufstehn (No 2 of Lieder und Romanzen, Op 14)[2'48]
7 Gang zur Liebsten Des Abends kann ich nicht schlafen gehn (No 6 of Lieder und Romanzen, Op 14)[2'17]
8 Sonntag So hab' ich doch die ganze Woche (No 3 of Fünf Lieder, Op 47)[1'49]
9 An ein Veilchen Birg, o Veilchen, in deinem blauen Kelche (No 2 of Fünf Lieder, Op 49)[2'58]
10 Die Spröde Ich sahe eine Tig'rin (No 3 of Lieder und Gesänge, Op 58)[2'22]
11 In der Gasse Ich blicke hinab in die Gasse (No 6 of Lieder und Gesänge, Op 58)[2'25]
12 Tambourliedchen Den Wirbel schlag' ich gar so stark (No 5 of Neun Gesänge, Op 69)[1'43]
13 Vergebliches Ständchen Guten Abend, mein Schatz (No 4 of Fünf Romanzen und Lieder, Op 84)[2'02] with Harriet Burns (soprano)
14 Spannung Gut'n Abend, gut'n Abend, mein tausiger Schatz (No 5 of Fünf Romanzen und Lieder, Op 84)[4'07] with Harriet Burns (soprano)
15 Ade! Wie schienen die Sternlein so hell, so hell (No 4 of Sechs Lieder, Op 85)[1'55]
16 In Waldeseinsamkeit Ich saß zu deinen Füßen (No 6 of Sechs Lieder, Op 85)[2'52]
17 Feldeinsamkeit Ich ruhe still im hohen grünen Gras (No 2 of Sechs Lieder, Op 86)[3'36]
18 Bei dir sind meine Gedanken (No 2 of Sieben Lieder, Op 95)[1'49]
19 Schön war, das ich dir weihte (No 7 of Sieben Lieder, Op 95)[2'04]
20 Entführung O Lady Judith, spröder Schatz (No 3 of Sechs Lieder, Op 97)[1'28]
21 Maienkätzchen (No 4 of Fünf Lieder, Op 107)[1'23]
49 Deutsche Volkslieder WoO33Anonymous - traditional , arr. Brahms:
22 Sagt mir, o schönste Schäfr'in mein[2'57] with Harriet Burns (soprano)
23 Gar lieblich hat sich gesellet[2'13]
24 Es ritt ein Ritter[3'18]m with Harriet Burns (soprano)
25 Wach auf, mein Hort[2'46]
26 Mein Mädel hat einen Rosenmund[1'54]
27 Ach könnt ich diesen Abend[2'16] with Harriet Burns (soprano)
28 Des Abends kann ich nicht schlafen gehn[2'40]
29 Ich weiß mir'n Maidlein hübsch und fein[3'19]
30 All' mein Gedanken[2'37]

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