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Gramophone Awards Shortlist 2016 Solo Vocal

Beethoven ‘Lieder & Bagatellen’ An die ferne Geliebte, Op 98a. Adelaide, Op 46a. An die Hoffnung, Op 32a. An die Hoffnung, Op 94a. Der Kuss, Op 128a. Lied aus der Ferne, WoO137a. Resignation, WoO149a. Wonne der Wehmut, Op 83a. Zärtliche Liebe, WoO123a. Six Bagatelles, Op 126 a Werner Güra ten Christoph Berner fp Harmonia Mundi F HMC90 2217 (63’ • DDD • T/t)

Interlacing a selection of (mainly) popular Lieder with piano miniatures, Werner

Güra and Christoph Berner here create the Beethovenian answer to a Schubertiade. Although the composer designed the Op 126 Bagatelles – his last music for piano – as a cycle, the recipe works well. There are some revealing correspondences, too: the songful, gently ornamental Bagatelle No 1 in G, here placed before An die ferne Geliebte, anticipates the cycle both in mood and in its technique of continual variation. Playing on an 1847 Streicher fortepiano – a direct descendant of the kind of instrument Beethoven knew – Berner relishes their quirkiness, explosive energy and rarefied lyricism. He bends the pulse liberally, yet is always mindful of the music’s onward flow. The fortepiano’s bell-like treble and slightly hazy resonance are heard to particularly beguiling effect in the idyllic barcarolle of No 5 in G; and Beethoven’s characteristic chasms between treble and bass sound that much more arresting with the fortepiano’s extreme timbre contrasts between registers.

Berner is also a discerning and poetic partner – never a mere sidekick – in the Lieder, which range in tone from the desolate ‘Resignation’ to the exuberant, mildly risqué ‘Der Kuss’. Güra’s mellifluous tenor has lost none of the freshness of a decade and more ago. He sings An die ferne Geliebte with a wondering, confiding intimacy, punctuated by surges of excited urgency. Nos 3, 4 and 5 are properly light and airborne. Singer and pianist conjure a trance-like stillness in the central verse of No 2 and at the sunset vision in the final song, before the unforced exultation of the end, enhanced by the ringing ease of Güra’s top register. Berner’s handling of the potentially tricky transitions between the songs seems spot-on, with Beethoven’s detailed dynamics and accents precisely observed and each song seeming to emerge naturally from its predecessor.

In ‘Zärtliche Liebe’ (aka ‘Ich liebe dich’) Güra tends to stress words at the expense of a pure legato line – simplicity is surely of the essence here. At the opening of the Italianate ‘Adelaide’ he likewise favours intensity of feeling over bel canto elegance. But with his quicksilver response to text and mood he always compels attention, whether in the two contrasting settings of ‘An die Hoffnung’ that frame the recital (the hushed awe of the later song beautifully caught), the restrained Innigkeit of ‘Wonne der Wehmut’ – here a true duet between voice and piano – or the sly pointing and timing of ‘Der Kuss’, abetted by volleys of keyboard laughter, a further reminder of Berner’s vivid contribution to the success of the whole delightful enterprise. Richard Wigmore

Liszt . Shostakovich Liszt Tre Sonetti di Petrarca, S270 Shostakovich Suite on Verses by Michelangelo Buonarroti, Op 145 Dmitri Hvorostovsky bar Ivari Ilja pf Ondine F ODE1277-2 (59’ • DDD • T/t)

Dmitri Hvorostovsky has always been just as comfortable on the recital platform as on the operatic stage, a state of affairs happily reflected in the Siberian baritone’s discography, packed with songs by Rachmaninov, Tchaikovsky and Mussorgsky. But Italian poetry is the inspiration for this new disc, pairing Shostakovich’s bleak settings of Michelangelo (in Russian) with Liszt’s Petrarch Sonnets.

Shostakovich composed his suite of 11 songs to mark the 500th anniversary of Michelangelo’s birth, although the seed may well have been sown when he heard Benjamin Britten’s Seven Sonnets in Moscow in 1966. Evgeny Nesterenko gave the world premiere in 1974 and recorded the cycle the following year under the composer’s watchful eye.

Hvorostovsky’s baritone isn’t as saturnine as Nesterenko’s bass, of course, but the compensation comes in the heroic ring in his upper register. But there’s no grandstanding here, as can be his way in opera. Hvorostovsky offers searching readings of these rugged, jagged songs which are full of resignation and bittersweet regret, of loss and separation. The later songs anticipate death, yet the final offering, ‘Immortality’, thumbs a nose at death in an insolent piano part – death cannot destroy the artist’s legacy – where the nursery-rhyme simplicity is reminiscent of the Fifteenth Symphony’s ‘toyshop’.

Ivari Ilja, Hvorostovsky’s regular accompanist, catches the prickly anger in ‘Creativity’, hammering at his forge. Ondine captures richer piano tone than Melodiya’s rather shrill recording. Although Nesterenko is more anguished in characterisation, Hvorostovsky caresses the vocal line more in songs such as ‘Night’, with fewer intrusive intakes of breath than on some of his discs. There are few things finer than Hvorostovsky in full flight and Liszt’s Petrarch Sonnets allow him the chance to open up the Italianate warmth in his baritone, with impassioned accounts, especially of Sonnet 47. Mark Pullinger Shostakovich – selected comparison: Nesterenko, Shenderovich (12/09) (MELO) MELCD100 1609

‘L’heure exquise’ Bachelet Chère nuit Berlioz Les nuits d’été, Op 7 – Le Spectre de la rose Chabrier Toutes les fleurs L’île heureuse Chausson Le temps des lilas Debussy La Grotte Fauré Le secret Op 23 No 3 Fleur jetée, Op 39 No 2 Gounod Sérénade Au printemps Hahn L’heure exquise. Douze Rondels – No 9, Les étoiles. Fumée. La Chère Blessure Koechlin Novembre, Op 22 No 2 Poulenc Les chemins de l’amour. Voyage à Paris. Hotel. La grenouillère, Op 5. Voyage Saint-Saëns Aimons-nous. Soirée en Mer Satie Je te veux Alice Coote mez Graham Johnson pf Hyperion F CDA67962 (74’ • DDD • T/t)

Poulenc wrote five of the songs included in Alice Coote’s recital, ‘L’heure exquise’. She gramophone.co.uk

GRAMOPHONE AWards 2016 41

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