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Max BRUCH (1838-1920)
Rafael Fingerlos (baritone)
Sascha El Mouissi (piano)
Cornelia Zink (soprano), Magdalena Rüker (mezzo), Bernhard Berchtold (tenor)
Benjamin Herzl (violin)
rec. January 2020, WDR, Klaus-von-Bismarck-Saal
Texts and translations into English included
CPO 555 422-2 [60:38]

CPO is making great progress in its exploration of Bruch’s compositions, having recently released a disc of piano music to add to its bigger-scaled vocal and other projects over the last few years. Now it’s the turn of the songs. These are on the reportorial fringes, at best, and even so fine a cycle as the Siechentrost-Lieder is seldom performed in concert, in this case almost certainly because of the unwieldy nature of the accompanying voices and violin, integral though they are to the cycle’s success they are an impediment to recital performance.

Bruch set Paul Heyse in these five songs and he augmented the singer and piano with an accompanying violin and, at points, a vocal trio of soprano, mezzo and tenor. The opening song features quite an extensive trill-laden violin introduction following which, in the second verse, the baritone and the violin ‘sing’ together in cantilena. This is quite a sophisticated folkloric setting and highly evocative and serves as a productive entrée to the cycle as a whole, in which the emotive states vary and contrast fruitfully. There’s a duet for the baritone and tenor whilst the vocal trio sing harmonies in the penultimate song as the music lightens and simplifies. The final setting embodies cyclic principles as the violin trills reappear and voices enter. There’s an especially beautiful postlude for the piano to end this attractive cycle.

At least one song is sampled from the remainder of Bruch’s vocal sets, though they’re not presented chronologically (in fact CPO doesn’t assign dates of composition to any of the songs). In seven of them pianist Sascha El Mouissi prefaces the songs with small introductions of his own invention, which utilise the extant piano parts as their basis. The songs otherwise begin with voice and piano unison. Whether this is to be approved or not, it is a solution of sorts though I suspect Bruchians would have preferred these little songs to have been unadorned in this way. There are five selected songs from the Op.17 set of which the first is rather Loewe-like. From the same set comes Tannhäuser in which his sense of narrative is successfully employed and where one finds Bruch getting increasingly declamatory. What this, of all songs, lacks though is really a sense of defining musical personality. Bruch was, however, adept and unflashy in his word setting and in Um Mitternacht, Op. 59 No. 1 he shows he can be dramatic, something that is not much in evidence elsewhere. There’s an assured and simple effectiveness to many of these lighter pieces and he can employ a Schubertian piano profile when it seems appropriate, as he does in Mein Liebchen naht, Blumen zu pflücken, Op. 97 No. 1.

Rafael Fingerlos is the earnest and faithful baritone, and El Mouissi is a sensitive pianist and they’ve been warmly recorded. A word of appreciation for the vocal soloists, particularly tenor Bernhard Berchtold, and of course to violinist Benjamin Herzl.

Bruch is at his best in the Siechentrost-Lieder whereas elsewhere his imagination is less fired-up. But this is a rather arcane area in his discography and worth getting to know if you want to move beyond the large-scale vocal works.

Jonathan Woolf

Altes Lied, Op. 7 No. 1 [1:52]
Im tiefen Thale, Op. 15 No. 3 [2:51]
Gold'ne Brucken Op. 15 No. 4 [1:43]
An die heilige Jungfrau, Op. 17 No. 1 [3:37]
An den Jesusknaben, Op. 17 No. 3 [1:40]
Von den Rosen komm' ich, Op. 17 No. 4 [1:39]
Tannhäuser, Op.17 No.8 [3:40]
Klosterlied, Op. 17 No. 10 [1:59]
Der Landsknecht, Op. 18 No. 2 [3:49]
An die heilige Jungfrau, Op.18 No.3 [3:38]
Dein gedenk' ich Margaretha, Op. 33 No. 3 [2:51]
Siechentrost-Lieder, Op. 54 [21:10]
Um Mitternacht, Op. 59 No. 1 [3:48]
Mein Liebchen naht, Blumen zu pflücken, Op. 97 No. 1 [2:26]
Durch die wolkige Maiennacht, Op. 97 No. 2 [2:41]
Ein Mädchen und ein Gläschen Wein, Op. 97 No. 5 [1:04]

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