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Anna Prohaska (soprano)
Julius Drake (piano)
rec. 2019, Studio 2, Bayerischer Rundfunk München
Sung texts with German, French and English translations enclosed ALPHA CLASSICS 581 [64:00]
Extra-musical themes makes for interesting juxtapositions of works that not necessarily belong together, either geographically, timewise or stylistically. In the present collection the music spans from early baroque (Purcell) to still living composers (Reimann, Crumb) and covers wide areas of the old world as well as some parts of the new. But the common theme is the timeless and eternal myth of the Creation as described in Genesis, ending with the fall of man and Adam and Eve being banished from the Garden of Eden. Whether many people believe in the myth today is really irrelevant, since so many generations have been imprinted by this belief. Thus Anna Prohaska and Julius Drake have put together this musical traversal in six episodes, beginning with “Morning in Paradise” followed by “Eve Awakens”, “Arcadia. Pastoral Idyll”, the evil Serpent, symbolising Satan in “The Fall of Man”, whereupon they are banished out of Paradise and in the final episode, “Earthly Life”, have to take care of themselves.
The mix of times and styles is refreshing, several, in fact most, of the songs are little known, but this is no doubt the strength of this compilation. As listener one is curious to know what happens next. Anna Prohaska, who has a large and varied discography in spite of her relative youth, has so far not come my way for reviewing purposes, but that is definitely my loss. She has a beautiful and expressive voice, crystal clear, good enunciation and sings the opening lovely Ravel song with disarming simplicity. But in the next, Bernstein’s Silhouette, which is based on a Lebanese folksong, she is instead mischievous and burlesque – and the song is great fun. Messiaen’s surrealist conversation with the birds from his 1945 song cycle Harawi is musically influenced by folk music from the Andes, which lends it an exotic atmosphere. Being a knowledgeable ornithologist he is here on his home ground, though whether he is here quoting authentic bird songs is beyond my powers to judge. The only bird mentioned by name is a green dove and to my mind doves of any colour are no great melodists. But the song is fascinating – in particular the piano part.
When Eve awakens on the first morning of the world it is to the first song from Fauré’s cycle La Chanson d’Ève from the first decade of the 20th century. This chromatic song is truly enchanting and so is Debussy’s setting of Mallarmé’s Apparition, composed in 1884, circa 25 years before Fauré’s cycle, but not published until 1926 and by then both Debussy and Fauré were dead.
Daniel-Lesur, the fifth Frenchman in this collection, is less well-known than the previous four. His choral work Le Cantique des Cantiques from the early 1950s is possibly his best known composition.
The song cycle Clair somme le jour is somewhat earlier and Ce qu’Adam dit à Ève is included there. The text by Claude Roy is filled with atmospheric smells, sounds, senses and I can hear a persistent cuckoo even though it isn’t mentioned in the poem.
Then we are transported to the pastoral idyll that precedes the arrival of the serpent, and the wordless Pastorale by Stravinsky is a lovely introduction. Composed in 1907 he was still influenced by his teacher Rimsky-Korsakov. The two Goethe settings by Hugo Wolf retain the idyllic mood.
But then things happen. Brahms’s Salamander is of course a frog relative but it is undeniably reptile like and it becomes a symbol here for the devil. Aribert Reimann, best known, I believe, for his Shakespeare opera Lear from 1978, commissioned by Fischer-Dieskau, is both naughty and fun in his Gib mir den Apfel from Kinderlieder, composed for the brilliant coloratura soprano Rita Streich in 1961.
The painter and poet William Blake claimed, as Benedikt von Bernstorff points out in the liner notes, that Milton, whose epos “Paradise Lost” also lends the title to this programme, “Unintentionally endowed God’s opponent Satan with the better arguments”. Blake’s metaphoric poem A Poison Tree in Britten’s setting, is an ingenious choice of song since it is within the same motivic sphere. The text can be interpreted in several ways, as so many of Blake’s poems – and also his works of art. The song is part of the cycle Songs and Proverbs of William Blake, which was premiered in Aldeburgh in June 1965 with the composer at the piano and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau as song soloist. The Pfitzner and Ravel songs were written roughly forty years earlier, almost simultaneous but stylistically worlds apart. Air du feu is a mock coloratura aria from the children’s opera L’Enfant et les Sortilèges and finds Ravel at his most humoristic and entertaining, a clear contrast to Pfitzner’s moderately modernistic late-romantic language.
The penultimate section, after the Fall of Man, is permeated of afterthought and a sense of farewell – a bunch of beautiful flowers to savour, whether from Eastern Europe (Rachmaninov) or the New World (Ives’s simple and soft evening song), whether from the solitaire in Albion’s late seventeenth century or the Central European Lieder greats of the nineteenth century. Her Schubert singing is superb in every respect.
Leaving Paradise for the real world can be just as depressing as emigrating to a new continent. Bertolt Brecht and Hans Eisler both knew what exile meant and Hollywood-Elegien from 1942, when they both lived in USA, breathes both bitterness and humour: “Paradise and Hell can be one city”. Mahler’s Das irdische Leben, where the text with roots in the eighteenth century talks about starving children in a world of poverty, has the same message: Life is struggle. And George Crumb’s Wind Elegy, composed when he was still a teenager in 1947, brings little comfort.
But the outcome of this traversal in the footprints of Eve, is anything but gloomy. In 25 carefully chosen songs we receive a kaleidoscope of disparate moods, styles and messages that hang together remarkably seamlessly. At the same time each song is a valuable gem in its own right, and the playing and singing is overwhelmingly sensitive and expressive. I do urge readers to listen to the cycle from beginning to end without interval for the overall experience. After that: feel free to pick and choose individual numbers, even though I believe many will want to play it all over again from the beginning. Most of all I urge all readers to invest in this disc without delay. You won’t regret the outlay.
MORNING IN PARADISE Maurice RAVEL (1875 – 1937)
Trois chansons, M.69:
1. Trois beaux oiseaux du Paradis [2:39] Leonard BERNSTEIN (1918 – 1990)
2. Silhouette (Galilee) [1:54] Olivier MESSIAEN (1908 – 1992)
3. Bonjour toi, colombe verte [3:44]
EVE AWAKENS Gabriel FAURÉ (1845 – 1924)
La Chanson d’Ève, Op. 95:
4. Paradis [7:20] Claude DEBUSSY (1862 – 1918)
5. Apparition, L.53 [3:34] Jean-Yves DANIEL-LESUR (1908 – 2002)
Clair comme le jour:
6. Ce qu’Adam dit à Ève [4:33]
PASTORAL IDYLL Igor STRAVINSKY (1882 – 1971)
7. Pastorale [1:32] Hugo WOLF (1860 – 1903)
8. Die Spröde [1:51]
9. Die Bekehrte [2:50]
PLAYING WITH FIRE Johannes BRAHMS (1833 – 1897)
5 Lieder. Op. 107:
10. Salamander [0:50] Aribert REIMANN (b. 1936)
11. Gib mir den Apfel [1:00] Benjamin BRITTEN (1913 – 1976)
12. A Poison Tree [3:11] Hans PFITZNER (1869 – 1949)
Alte Weisen, Op. 33:
13. Röschen biß den Apfel an [0:43] Maurice RAVEL
L’Enfant et les Sortilèges, M.71:
14. Air du feu [1:50]
BANISHMENT Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873 – 1943)
6 Romances, Op. 38:
15. A-oo [2:14] Charles IVES (1874 – 1954)
16. Evening [1:43] Henry PURCELL (1659 – 1695)
17. Sleep, Adam, sleep, Z 195 [1:36] Franz SCHUBERT (1797 – 1828)
18. Auflösung, D.807 [2:11]
19. Abendstern D.806 [2:24] Robert SCHUMANN (1810 – 1856)
Das Paradies und die Peri, Op. 50:
20. Jetzt sank des Abends goldner Schein [4:35]
Liederkreis, Op. 24:
21. Warte, warte wilder Schiffmann [2:06]
EARTHLY LIFE Hanns EISLER (1898 – 1962)
22. Jeden Morgen, mein Brot zu verdienen [1:10]
23. Diese Stadt hat mich belehrt [1:19] Gustav MAHLER (1860 – 1911)
Lieder aus ‚Des Knaben Wunderhorn‘:
24. Das irdische Leben [2:45] George CRUMB (b. 1929)
Three Early Songs:
25. Wind Elegy [2:13]