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Dirty Minds
Olivia Vermeulen (mezzo soprano)
Jan Philip Schulze (piano)
rec. 2019, Deutschlandfunk Kammermusiksaal

This album and I started off on the wrong foot: No texts and translations are included!! Annoying at the best of times but for an eclectic, era-jumping programme of multi-language song, it is unforgivable. Yes, you can get the texts online on Challenge Classics but don't expect translations. The producers somehow found the budget for a glossy booklet with photos, artist bios and the performers' essay and mission statement for their genre bending trawl of sex in song. It is a wonderful idea but even the essay irked me with a clunky paragraph on gender stereotypes which is deemed resolvable by 'honing the sequence of the songs.' Suitably irritated, I was generally won over by the music making. It is superbly sung throughout by Olivia Vermeulen. The Dutch born mezzo has had a solid background in lyric, chiefly Germanic repertoire although her discography is very eclectic and multi-lingual, flitting between baroque and contemporary repertoire. This appears to be her first solo album.

Thomas Pigor's bluesy, slinky Sex sets her stall out, calling out for her full range of techniques and expressions. From whistling, to Sprechgesang, to straight classical singing Vermeulen manages the jumps without seeming to tarnish her light mezzo. She is similarly filthy and guttural in Weill's well known Ballade of Sexual Dependency and then butter-wouldn't-melt prim a moment later. In some ways I wish she didn't try so hard. Schubert's perky, burgeoning sexuality number, Heidenröslein is carefully, very classically sung, when some of her lightness of touch, in Weill and Pigor, might have shone some new light on this oversung Lied.

I find her Schubert and Mozart rather faceless, especially noticeable when she is so alive and animated in the grime and grunge of Weimar Germany. Her Debussy Bilitis settings are beautifully sung and made me wish for more of Vermeulen in French repertoire. There is certainly no shortage of sexually tinged chansons which she could have added, be it Fauré, Poulenc or Brel.

She convinces in all these conflicting idioms and she has the swing for William Bolcom's sexy Toothbrush Time, only a trace of an accent in her 'Gotta go' end line. The Purcell tracks are equally fine too and she sounds more relaxed than in some of the other 'serious' music. Although a modern piano is hardly authentic that would be to miss the point. Her free and easy Sweeter than Roses sits rather well with the jazzier 20th century numbers.

The best section is the seven Hans Eisler songs. Eisler can be a hard sell but these miniatures are brilliantly done and demonstrate his more melodic side. Although better known in Weill's setting, Eisler's Lied eines Freudenmädchens is a gem and Vermeulen delivers it in a convincing nightclub manner. Then it is back to her rich, classical mezzo register for his Goethe Fragment. Und Endlich is a fitting ending, a delicious little song, slyly undermined by its wistful text of faded desire and wondering if this is what contentment is. These Eisler songs were unfamiliar to me but this disc makes a great case for them.

Vermeulen's diction in every language is superb throughout and she convinces as both straight laced Lieder singer and sultry club singer. For all the daring fusion in the programming, each genre seems segregated. She displays basically three sorts of vocal delivery: a shimmering, classically rock solid mezzo, a croaky, Piaf rasp and an easy going jazz vocalist. She is excellent at all three although it makes me wonder what it is doing to her technique jumping around like that.

Nevertheless Vermeulen is in good company. She reminds me a lot of Anne Sofie von Otter in her light, flexible timbre and certainly the elder singer didn't embarrass herself in Weill or even Abba. I just wish Vermeulen didn't vocally compartmentalise each genre so formally. I wish a little of her smut in Bolcom and Weill leaked through in the classical songs. I can't help thinking that this would have worked better recorded live in a jazz bar, somewhere where she might not change vocal gears so deliberately. Similar fusions of Lieder and Jazz have gone down a storm in venues like The Pheasantry in South West London. Although the recital is imaginatively programmed, I felt there were key works missing, be it Poulenc's filthy L'offrande or Mozart's An Chloë. A bit more Weill wouldn't have gone amiss too.

Nevertheless I am basically nit picking. There isn't a badly sung track here and my concerns about what her vocal technique must have to contend with jumping genres like this are not grounded in serious vocal pedagogy myself. Olivia Vermeulen has been closely miked but I think that suits the cabaret feel of the programme. It is an intimate, playful programme, beautifully performed and especially desirable for the Eisler sequence. Just spend a bit more time on the booklet next time.

Barnaby Rayfield
Thomas PIGOR (1956-) Benedikt EICHHORN (1962-)
1 Sex [04:01]
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
2 Heidenröslein Op. 3/3 D.257 [01:46]
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
3 Das Veilchen KV.476 [02:16]
Kurt WEILL (1900-1950)
4 Die Ballade von der sexuellen Hörigkeit [03:04]
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
5 Der Zauberer KV.472 [02:01]
Arnold SCHOENBERG (1874-1951)
6 Der genügsame Liebhaber, from 'Brettl-Lieder' [02:17]
Hugo WOLF (1860-1903)
7 Erstes Liebeslied eines Mädchens [01:26]
8 Rat einer Alten [01:50]
William BOLCOM (1938-)
9 Toothbrush Time, from 'Cabaret Songs' 1985 [03:18]
Arnold SCHÖNBERG (1874-1951)
10 Das schöne Beet Op.15/10, from 'Das Buch der hängenden Gärten' [02:07]
Alban BERG (1885-1935)
11 Die Nachtigall from “Sieben frühe Lieder” [01:52]
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
12 Die Lotosblume Op. 25/7 [01:38]
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
13 Och Moder, ich well en Ding han. WoO 33/33 from “49 Deutsche Volkslieder” [01:58]
Henry PURCELL (1659-1695)
14 Man is for the woman made Z.605/3 [01:21]
15 Sweeter than roses Z.585/1 [03:13]
Jake HEGGIE (1961-)
16 Animal passion [03:09]
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
17 Die junge Nonne D.828 [04:41]
Arnold SCHOENBERG (1874-1951)
18 Warnung Op. 3/3 [01:48]
Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)
19 Trois Chansons de Bilitis L. 97 La flûte de Pan [02:23]
20 Trois Chansons de Bilitis L. 97 La chevelure [03:02]
21 Trois Chansons de Bilitis L. 97 Le tombeau des Naïades [02:27]
Hanns EISLER (1898-1962)
22 Sieben Lieder über die Liebe Lied eines Freudenmädchens [02:11]
23 Sieben Lieder über die Liebe Goethe-Fragment [01:18]
24 Sieben Lieder über die Liebe Heiratsannonce- Liebeslied eines Kleinbürgermädchens [01:02]
25 Sieben Lieder über die Liebe Verfehlte Liebe [01:16]
26 Sieben Lieder über die Liebe Heiratsannonce- Liebeslied eines Grundbesitzers [00:58]
27 Sieben Lieder über die Liebe Lied der Kupplerin [02:33]
28 Sieben Lieder über die Liebe Und endlich [01:32]

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