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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770 – 1827)
Immortal Beloved
Chen Reiss (soprano)
Oliver Wass (harp)
Academy of Ancient Music/Richard Egarr
rec. 2019, St Augustine’s, Kilburn, London
Sung texts with English translations enclosed
ONYX 4218 [58:52]

Israeli soprano Chen Reiss made great impact on me with an album of arias by Mozart and his contemporaries that I reviewed eight years ago, so much so that I awarded it a Recording of the Month. It is still a disc I return to with pleasure – both for her singing and for the many rarities of the programme. And rarities aplenty you’ll find also on the present disc. Marzelline’s aria from Fidelio is of course well-known, though seldom heard out of context, and the big scene and aria Ah! Perfido is relatively often featured in recital programmes. Clärchen’s two songs from the incidental music to Goethe’s Egmont may also be heard once in a while, but the rest is probably unknown territory to most of us. The earliest aria in this collection is from a Cantata on the Accession of Emperor Leopold II, composed in October 1790. It was however never performed during Beethoven’s lifetime, probably because it was too difficult for the orchestral members in Bonn. For the players in the Academy of Ancient Music it poses no problems, and it is a charming piece by a 20-year-old composer during his apprentice years. It leaves scope for the soloist to display her technical ability, but it is far from only empty canary roulades – there is honest feeling in the music. Chen Reiss lives up to expectations, singing with great accomplishment and conviction – and her technical flair is indisputable.

No, non turbarti was written somewhat later, while he was studying with Salieri in Vienna, and here he displays an ability for dramatic writing, as he, to even higher degree does in Primo amore, earlier believed to have been written also while he studied with Salieri. Later research has shown that it also emanates from his Bonn years and was written for the first soprano at the Bonn National Theatre, Magdalena Willmann, who may have been his first love. Both arias deal with unhappy love and seem to predict Beethoven’s own unsuccessful affairs. Particularly Primo amore should have been a great success in the hands of a good singer, like Chen Reiss, but neither of them was published. It is a real treat to have them on disc in such glorious readings. Soll ein Schuh nicht drücken, an insert aria for a comic singspiel by Ignaz Umlauf, was also composed for Magdalena Willmann, and demonstrates not only the soprano’s technique but also her vocal range – her lowest register was famous. But according to the liner notes the arias were originally written for the contralto Marianne Weiß and later transposed for soprano. Incidentally, when I checked Kinsky-Halm’s list of works without opus numbers, I found that No, non turbarti, was supposed to be written as late as 1802.

The Fidelio aria is filled with emotions and is deeply satisfying in Chen Reiss’s interpretation. The two songs from Egmont are also sung with flair and great beauty. Leonore Prohaska was a drama by Johann Friedrich Duncker from 1815. Beethoven contributed four numbers: a soldiers’ chorus for male choir a cappella, a romanza for voice and harp, a melodrama for glass harmonica and a funeral march for orchestra, which was a transcription of the funeral march from the piano sonata op. 26. The Romanza is a truly beautiful piece, sung with great feeling and with excellent accompaniment by Oliver Wass – certainly a piece for the favourite list.

Ah! Perfido from 1796 is one of the great concert arias and requires both sensitivity and power. It has been sung by hochdramatische sopranos like Birgit Nilsson but also lyrical singers like Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, and Chen Reiss has an ideal combination of expressive means. She is wholeheartedly involved, she has power and pathos and the aria proper is so beautifully sung. The last part is highly dramatic and here Chen Reiss is truly impressive.

With stunning accompaniments under Richard Egarr this is a thrilling disc with largely unhackneyed Beethoven works – an ideal addition to many Beethoven enthusiasts’ collection.

Göran Forsling

1. Aria Fliesse, Wonnezähre, fliesse! (from Cantata on the Accession of Emperor Leopold II, WoO 88) [10:25]
Scena ed aria ‘No, non turbarti’ WoO 92°:
2. No, non tubarti [2:13]
3. Ma tu tremi, o mio tesoro [3:12]
Scena ed aria ‘Primo amore’ WoO 92
4. Primo amore, piacer del ciel ... Tal amor, piacer del ciel [13:25]
5. Singspiel aria Soll ein Schuh nicht drücken WoO 91/2 [4:46]
6. O wär‘ ich schon mit dir vereint (from Fidelio, Op. 72 act I) [3:44]
Egmont, Op. 84:
7. No 1 Lied Die Trommel gerühret! (Clärchen) [3:01]
8. No. 4 Lied Freudvoll und leidvoll (Clärchen) [2:00]
9. No. 2 Romanza Es blüht eine Blume im Garten mein (from Leonore Prohaska, WoO 96) [2:49]
Scena ed aria Ah! Perfido Op. 65
10. Ah! Perfido, spergiuro ... [3:22]
11. Per pietà, non dirmi addio [9:48]

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