Skip to main content
Read page text

Page Text

GRAMOPHONE AWARDS SHORTLIST 2019

occasional audience chortling, which is jarring when often what’s been sung is actually verging on the tragic or bitter. Such is the ambiguity of these fascinating songs, which play with the lyricism of Italian opera and balladry while at the same time disdaining it.

Of the two singers, the bright-voiced Damrau is the more nuanced and precise with text, even if Wolf mostly allocates his female singer the role of the coquette or minx. Still, she digs deep. ‘Ich bin verliebt, doch eben nicht in dich’ – ‘I’m in love, but not with you’ – is poignantly and cleverly delivered in ‘Du denkst mit einem Fädchen mich zu fangen’. And she finds a palpably erotic frisson behind ‘Wie lange schon war immer mein Verlangen’, a plea for a musician (any musician?) to come and woo her.

Kaufmann, husky and intense, has less in his Lieder toolkit but he is completely committed to the material. You may surrender to his breathy-vergingon-crooning pianissimo singing or detest it – it’s not deployed too often here to grate. In a central section where the themes grow more morbid, he really excels as the writing grows more Wagnerian: ‘Und willst du deinen Liebsten sterben sehen’ unfolds in an almost Tristan-esque haze, directly followed by the rich melancholy of ‘Sterb’ ich, so hüllt in Blumen meine Glieder’. While Kaufmann and Damrau are clearly at ease with each other and the chemistry really works, there are no duets here. The expressive glue is in fact Deutsch, with his unsentimental probing of Wolf’s ruthlessly concise writing and often devastating delivery of those fascinating, heart-stopping cadences. Neil Fisher (2/19)

‘Perpetual Night’ 17th-Century Ayres and Songs by Johnson, Lawes, Coprario, Ramsey, Lanier, Banister, Webb, Hilton, Hart, Blow, Purcell and Jackson Lucile Richardot mez Ensemble Correspondances / Sébastien Daucé Harmonia Mundi F HMM90 2269 (72’ • DDD • T)

The title may be ‘Perpetual Night’ but there’s absolutely nothing gloomy or unremitting about this delicious disc and its chiaroscuro play of shading and texture. In a programme of 17th-century English lute songs, airs and dramatic scenes, mezzo Lucile Richardot, Sébastien

Daucé and Ensemble Correspondances take their listeners through a restless night of grief, despair and troubled sleep before morning comes, and with it music that charms the senses once again into delight.

But it’s the album’s parallel, historical narrative that is, if anything, more interesting. Mining the neglected period between Dowland and Purcell for its musical interest, Richardot and her collaborators explore the French influence that helped take vocal music from court to commercial theatres, birthing that most English of musical genres: semi‑opera.

Promoted from supporting act to main event, works by Lawes and Locke, Robert Ramsey and John Banister reveal rather startling musical secrets. The bold dissonance and volatile harmonic shifts of Lawes’s ‘Music, the master thy art is dead’ and ‘Whiles I this standing lake’ are painted with Caravaggio-like depth by Richardot (such a compelling Penelope in John Eliot Gardiner’s touring Ulisse, whose inky tone combines the best of countertenor brilliance and mezzo earthiness), while the Judgement of Paris is vividly dramatised in John Hilton’s ‘Rise, princely shepherd’, and operatic energy absolutely bursts from Banister’s ‘Amintas, that true hearted swain’.

The 12-strong instrumental ensemble (who elevate this recording with the embroidered detail, variety and palimpsestshading of their accompaniments) are also enriched by a fine quartet of singers, who take consort song close to arioso in Robert Ramsey’s expansive setting of Herrick’s ‘Howl not, you ghosts and furies’, taking chamber music right to the brink of staged musical drama.

Lawes and Locke may never quite have Purcell’s pulling-power on a recording but that disparity has rarely sounded more misplaced than it does here. Alexandra Coghlan (7/18)

‘Vienna: fin de siècle’ Berg Sieben Frühe Lieder A Mahler Fünf Lieder – No 1, Die stille Stadt; No 3, Laue Sommernacht; No 5, Ich wandle unter Blumen. Vier Lieder – No 1, Licht in der Nacht Schoenberg Vier Lieder, Op 2 Webern Fünf Lieder nach Gedichten von Richard Dehmel Wolf Mignon Lieder Zemlinsky Lieder, Op 2, Book 2 – No 1, Frühlingstag; No 6, Empfängnis. Gesänge, Op 5 – No 1, Schlaf nur ein; No 6, Tiefe Sehnsucht. Fünf Gesänge, Op 7 – No 1, Da waren zwei Kinder; No 2, Entbietung; No 4, Irmelin Rose Barbara Hannigan sop Reinbert de Leeuw pf Alpha F ALPHA393 (78’ • DDD • T/t)

After a well-received album of Satie for the French composer’s anniversary, Barbara Hannigan and Reinbert de Leeuw (having transitioned from Winter & Winter to Alpha) present a generous programme of fin de siècle Viennese songs. In a booklet conversation they describe this as music ‘at the edge of tonality, and also at the end of it’. Though they also admit it’s music rooted in a near century-long tradition started by Schubert, there’s very much the sense of these songs being approached from the other side, glancing back knowingly from a postwar perspective.

Hannigan’s approach, then, is not what we’re used to. In many of the songs there’s the sense that she’s embodying one of her most famous roles, Berg’s Lulu; I found myself imagining a waif-like protagonist wandering through shadowy, dreamlike landscapes. The delivery is intimate, confiding and almost coquettish. De Leeuw offers gentle, patient and discreet accompaniment. Hannigan’s voice is lithe and flexible rather than rich and firm; she strokes the vocal line lovingly rather than grasping it; her German is languid and unpercussive – often difficult to decipher. You might, like me, find yourself thinking more of the cabaret than the concert hall.

At times it’s supremely seductive. There’s no denying the erotic charge she communicates, for example, in Schoenberg’s Dehmel settings (listen to the final phrase of ‘Schenk mir deinen goldenen Kamm’, for example). You’ll struggle not to be carried away, too, with her way with the early Zemlinsky songs – such marvellous pieces in themselves. And her high notes in Berg’s ‘Schilflied’ are difficult to resist.

But several of Hannigan’s touches strike me, if not as inauthentic (to raise the question of authenticity is to open a can of worms), then at least as overly affected. High notes regularly float airily before being filled out, and there are swoops and slides aplenty (listen to Webern’s ‘Am Ufer’ or ‘Helle Nacht’). Occasionally I longed for something more straightforward, objective even, especially in the more ‘traditional’ Wolf numbers that conclude the disc. But, as usual with Hannigan, there’s some compelling, fascinating singing here. Hugo Shirley (12/18)

46 GRAMOPHONE SHORTLIST 2019

gramophone.co.uk

Skip to main content