GRAMOPHONE AWARDS SHORTLIST 2018
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Debussy ‘Songs, Vol 4’ Apparitiona. Arabesque No 1. Beau soira. Clair de lune (1st version)a. Chanson espagnoleb. Coquetterie posthumea. En sourdine (1st version)a. Fantoches (1st version)a. Le fille aux cheveux de lina. Flots, palmes, sablesc. Janea. Mandolinea. Noël des enfants qui n’ont plus de maisonsa. Nuits blanchesd. Pantomimea. Les papillonsa. Rondeaua. Rondel chinoisa. Séguidillea. Tragédiea abc Lucy Crowe sop dChristopher Maltman bar Malcolm Martineau pf with bJennifer France sop c Lucy Wakeford hp Hyperion F CDA68075 (63’ • DDD • T/t)
Hyperion’s excellent Debussy song series has evolved over the years from what was originally a stand-alone recital by Christopher Maltman and Malcolm Martineau, released in 2003 (5/03). In Vol 2 (6/12), with Lorna Anderson and Lisa Milne, Martineau added the major cycles for female voice, while Vol 3 (11/14) found Jennifer France and James Rutherford tackling Debussy’s settings of Théodore de Banville and Paul Bourget. The latter included some of the recently discovered early songs, written between 1880 and 1884, for Marie-Blanche Vasnier, and a further selection of Vasnier songs, 15 in all, dominates the latest volume, outstandingly sung by Lucy Crowe. France joins her for ‘Chanson espagnole’ for two sopranos; Maltman returns for the brief 1898 cycle Nuits blanches.
Throughout, we gradually become aware of Debussy’s original voice emerging from his response to disparate influences. Some of the Vasnier songs clearly started out as fashionable display pieces in exotic or Orientalist mode. The melismas that pervade ‘Rondel chinois’ and ‘Flots, palmes, sables’, the latter scored for piano and harp, are reminiscent of Delibes’s Lakmé, though the chromatic harmonies are already strikingly adventurous. There are three settings of Théophile Gautier, of which ‘Coquetterie posthume’, all emotional ambiguity and bittersweet irony, is the best. More important here, though, are the early Verlaine settings, some of which Debussy later revised or rewrote. The original ‘Fantoches’ ends with a coloratura passage of considerable difficulty. The first ‘En sourdine’, meanwhile, is exquisite, and deserves to be better known. Crowe and Martineau also include the ravishing ‘Beau soir’, published in 1891 (we don’t know when it was written) and close with Debussy’s last song, ‘Noël des enfants qui n’ont plus de maisons’, written shortly before his cancer surgery in 1915, and angrily inveighing against the depredations of war.
In wonderful voice throughout, Crowe very much makes this repertory her own. Ascents into the stratospheres are all beautifully and securely accomplished, and those long melismas are tautly controlled and always expressive, never vacuous. Textual awareness and understanding shine through in the elegant wit of the Verlaine songs and in the reflective if intense Mallarmé setting ‘Apparition’, among the last songs Debussy wrote for Vasnier. She and France are delightful together duetting in parallel harmonies in ‘Chanson espagnole’. Maltman sounds forceful and anguished in Nuits blanches, usually regarded as an adjunct to Golaud’s music in Pelléas, though its murky, Sadean eroticism – Debussy wrote his own text – steers it closer, perhaps, to the eventually unfinished La chûte de la maison Usher. Martineau, who has been the series’ presiding genius, is a flawless Debussy interpreter, meanwhile, playing with infinite subtlety, nuance and colour. Exceptional. Tim Ashley
Eisler Ändere die Welt, sie braucht es. An die Überlebenden. Ballade vom Baum und den Ästen. Die Ballade vom Soldaten. Die Ballade vom Wasserrad, Op 45 No 11. Bankenlied, Op 48 No 1. Chorlied von der nützlichen Missetat. Deutsches Lied 1937, ‘Marie, weine nicht’. Einheitsfront-Lied. Grabrede für einen Genossen. In die Städte kam ich. Kuppellied. Lied der Mariken. Lied der Nanna. Das Lied vom Anstreicher Hitler. Das Lied vom SA-Mann. Lied von der belebenden Wirkung des Geldes. Lob des Lernens. Oh Falladah, die du da hangest. Der Rauber und sein Knecht. Schlussballade. Sklave, wer wird dich befreien. Solidaritatslied, Op 27 No 1. Die Spaziergänge. Stempellied, Op 28 No 6. Das ‘Vielleicht’-Lied. Wenn der Igel in der Abendstunde Holger Falk bar Steffen Schleiermacher pf Dabringhaus und Grimm F MDG613 2001-2 (76’ • DDD • T)
Hanns Eisler’s songs have been reasonably well represented on disc, not least with high-profile recordings from Matthias Goerne (including the Hollywood Songbook – Decca, 1/99). But this new album from MDG inaugurates what looks to be an important new four-volume survey of his vocal output, with the pianist Steffen Schleiermacher at the helm. It covers the key period of 1929 to 1937 during which the composer proved a master of the political song – many following a standard pattern by alternating melancholy self-reflection with righteous anger. All but a couple of the numbers here are settings of texts by Brecht.
I was expecting it to be quite a lot to swallow in one go – the programme is a generous one – but found myself happily listening all the way through at the first sitting. Eisler never lets his material get weighed down or portentous, and it’s all leavened by a good dose of dark Berlin humour, some subtle (the swaggering ‘Kuppellied’ includes sly Tristan quotations), some not so subtle (such as in the broad satire of ‘Das Lied vom Anstreicher Hitler’).
There’s no disguising Eisler’s knack for melody (in the lovely, nostalgic ‘Lied der Nanna’ for example), or his skill in adding delicious harmonic colour to material that could end up slightly monochrome. Though it’s a sound world in some ways familiar from the better-known Weill, we also hear hints of Wolf at his most biting and, in the thoughtful piano postludes, echoes of Schumann. There’s a good deal of Mahler, too, whose Wunderhorn pacifism feels here as though it’s being dragged into the dark heart of the 20th century.
All the songs receive terrific performances. Holger Falk has a clear, cleanly focused baritone that can run the gamut from a honeyed piano to something more like an impassioned shout (such as in the unrelenting ‘Das Lied vom SA‑Mann’); he even has to deliver some lines in ‘Lob des Lernens’ through a megaphone.
40 GRAMOPHONE SHORTLIST 2018
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