SONGS BY LISZT, VERDI, STRAUSS & SCHUMANN / LISZT: Mignons Lied / Hungarian State Orch., András Koródi, conductor. VERDI: Six Romances: No. 6, Deh, pietoso, oh Addolorata; No. 2, La Zingara; No. 3, in solitaria stanza. Il poveretto. L’esule / Sándor Falvai, piano. STRAUSS: Du meines Herzens Krönelein; All mein’ Gedanken; Das Rosenband; Nichts; Ich trage meine Minne; Morgen. SCHUMANN: Frauenliebe und Leben / Jenö Jandó, piano; Klára Takács, mezzo-soprano / Hungaroton HCD32769
The great Hungarian mezzo Klára Takács first came to prominence in the West through her complete recording of Goldmark’s opera The Queen of Sheba with Magda Kalmár and Siegfried Jerusalem, a recording so good (of a somewhat mediocre opera) that it has never been challenged, let alone surpassed. She continued to enthrall Western audiences, during those Iron Curtain years, via further Hungaroton recordings of lieder such as this one and her performances of the Mahler song cycles Songs of a Wayfarer and Kindertotenlieder. After the fall of the Soviet Union, she was finally able to accept engagements at her leisure. Although her career in the West seems to have ebbed after the late 1990s, she was still giving recitals in Hungary as late as 2014.
The recordings selected for this recital, culled from 1980-86, catch her at her considerable best. Takács was a mezzo I could best describe as being in the Janet Baker mold, and the comparisons are not casual or unjustified. Like Baker, Takács was noted for being an exceptional stage actor; Both mezzo had lean tones with laser focus and ringing high notes with plenty of metal or “squillo” in them. Both could drop to a whisper or open up with thrilling, almost dramatic effect (I heard Baker live, just once, but it was one of the most unforgettable concerts of my life), and both spent at least half of their career singing lieder.
Takács is reportedly very proud of these particular recordings and felt that she chose her program well. Certainly, her approach to the music strongly reflects the Hungarian musical ethic, which is a fairly strict, by-the-score reading of every note and every phrase of every song, yet also one in which every note and every phrase is alive with feeling, almost crackling in its electricity. This, too, is much like Baker, particularly Baker live. One of the pieces I heard Dame Janet sing was Beethoven’s Ah, perfido!, and it was a completely different reading from her nice but somewhat held-back studio recording, a hell-bent-for-leather performance in which she let all her emotion hang out to dry.
In this recital, Takács gives just such a reading of one of the most overdone and oft-ruined song cycles ever written, Schumann’s Frauenliebe und Leben. This is no wussy housewife here, but one of strong-willed determination. Takács sings every piece in this cycle as if her life depended on it, and in fact one of the songs (“Er, her Herrlichste von allen”) contains her only overblown high note. It’s not off-pitch, just a bit strained, yet in character for the song and the words, an indication that Takács was willing to let “pure” vocalism go in lieu of strong feeling.
I was a little taken aback by her singing of the Verdi songs, not being used to the “Hungarian way” with this composer. She certainly respects the lyric line, but there is a certain continuous forward pressure in the music that does not allow for lingering. This is especially noticeable in the first Verdi song she performs, Deh, pietoso, oh Addolorato, with its second section eerily prescient of Saint-Saëns’ “My heart at thy sweet voice” from Samson et Dalila. Yet this is not to say that Takács doesn’t know how to caress a line when the situation calls for it. Just hear, for instance, the way she limns Strauss’ gorgeous Morgen, a piece I wasn’t so sure she’d be able to do full justice to. But I was wrong, and gleefully admit as much.
Takács’ voice, like Baker’s, was a “true” mezzo, meaning that although she had a good low range and could get down there, it was not her glory as it was with Marilyn Horne or Christa Ludwig. It was a voice, however, that was perfectly even in quality from top to bottom, a rarity in almost any singer. Her low notes were as beautiful as her high range, but as I said, they had more ring to them. Her accompanists here are also quite good, particularly Jenö Jandó, whose playing has (to me) more feeling and imagination than that of Sandór Falvai, but there are no poor or uninteresting tracks on this recital. It is solid gold from start to finish.
— © 2016 Lynn René Bayley