Daniel Behle Nostalgic for Tenor Bonbons!

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NOSTALGIA / FLOTOW: Martha: Ach, so fromm. NICOLAI: Die lustige Weiber von Windsor: Horch, die Lerche singt im Hein. LORTZING: Zar und Zimmermann: Holzchuhtanz, ADAM: Der Postillon von Lonjumeau: Freunde, vernehmet die Geschichte. GOLDMARK: Die Königin von Saba: Magische töne. BOILDIEU: Die Weiße Dame: Komm, oh holde Dame. LEHÁR: Eva: Zwanzinette. Giuditta: Freunde, das Leben ist lebenswert. Der Zarewitsch: Allein, wieder allein…Es steht ein Soldat. BEHLE: Im Köln. STOLZ: Ob Blond, ob Braun, ich liebe alle Frau’n. MAY-NEUBACH: Ein Lied geht um die Welt. Heut’ ist der Schönste Tag in meinem Leben. WINKLER: Chianti Lied / Daniel Behle, tenor; WDR Köln Radio Chorus & Orchestra; Helmuth Froschauer, conductor / Capriccio C5317

Oh, have I seen albums like this before: a modern-day singer paying tribute to light material from the past of the kind once known as “bonbons.” You get all happy and excited; you purchase the album, start playing it, and are almost immediately let down. The singer’s voice has a wobble (most common nowadays), or a strained high range (absolutely fatal in this kind of material), or, worst of all, has absolutely no concept of how to sing this material.

Daniel Behle, one of my favorite tenors, does not disappoint in this album, due out on October 13. In the very brief notes I received with the sales sheet for this CD, it says that he originally conceived of this as a tribute to his favorite tenor of the 1950s and ‘60s, Fritz Wunderlich, but as you can see from the material he sings on here he ended up paying tribute not just to Fritzie but also to Nicolai Gedda, Richard Tauber, Joseph Schmidt and, waving hello to us from way back in the early 20th century, that jolly, juiced-up giant, Leo Slezak. All are represented here: Slezak’s calling-card arias, “Magische töne” and “Komm, oh holde Dame,” Tauber’s Lehár and Stolz, two of Schmidt’s famous movie songs, Gedda’s specialties in Die lustige Weiber von Windsor and Der Postillon von Lonjumeau, and Wunderlich’s “covers” of many of these as well as the aria from Martha. Just about the only thing missing is Wunderlich’s cover of Granada, or perhaps his splendid rendition of “O rose von Stambul.” And Behle sings all of them well and in his own style, not consciously aping any of these great tenors the exact way they did them.

Oddly enough, we get two instrumentals thrown in, the Holzschuhtanz from Lortzing’s Zar und Zimmermann and the Zwanzinette from Lehár’s Eva (The Factory Girl). I’m not sure why; they’re jolly enough pieces, but I’d rather have had Behle sing something in these spots. But hey, it’s a fun record and they’re fun pieces.

I was fortunate enough to catch up with Behle via email and he graciously agreed to answer a few interview questions. I think my readers, whether amateur listeners or professional singers, will appreciate what he has to say about singing in general, his selection of tunes for this album, and future roles he is considering. Here, then, are a few moments with Daniel Behle:

Art Music Lounge: First of all, Mr. Behle, let me thank you for taking time out of your very busy schedule to do this interview with me. I’ve admired your singing for several years now, and so would like to talk to you about your singing technique as well as about this specific CD.

Listening to your voice, I hear not only an exceptionally bright tone—the kind of sound that very few German tenors, such as Peter Anders and Fritz Wunderlich, were able to achieve—but also a seamless tone production with perfectly blended registers. Even in the most difficult of these songs and arias, such as “Magische töne,” “Komm, oh holde Dame” and of course “Freunde, vernehmet die Geschichte,” I hear perfectly-controlled register breaks. What I was wondering about was your placement of high notes. Are they placed entirely in head voice, or chest, or a mixture of the two?

Daniel Behle: That’s quite complicated. The way to archive a perfect blending, in my opinion, is only possible if you sing in voix-mixte the whole time. Even in the low register, I personally use a certain amount of head voice mixed with my full body voice. If you get higher in tessitura the head voice part gets more and the body (chest) voice gets less, though at the same time you need to achieve a balance and find your center even lower with the very high notes. Think of a well balanced seesaw.

AML: When making a volume shift in the upper range, do you “slide” between head and chest, so so speak, or do you make a quick but not always audible shift from one to the other?

DB: If you master singing in voix mixte all the time there is absolutely no problem in changing colour, sound or strength the way you want it. Even if it is very low or high. I pour water from one glass into another – so to speak.

AML: In writing my review, I was delighted to see that your original idea of recording a tribute to Fritz Wunderlich ended up as a tribute to several tenors who sang a lighter repertoire. I was wondering if, in the Lehár and Stolz pieces, you listened to Richard Tauber’s performances or only to later tenors singing these songs?

DB: I love the old recordings and know some of Tauber’s recording too. Though I must confess I don’t try to copy the style and the way the pieces were sung in this period of time – but in my opinion it is certainly important to know how the great singers sang and felt this kind of music.

AML: From a personal view, I have to thank you for including the two Joseph Schmidt songs, particularly “Heut’ ist der Schönste Tag” which is one of my favorites. To the best of my knowledge, NO other tenor has recorded this song since Schmidt. Just out of curiosity, were there any other Schmidt songs that you considered for the album but chose not to include?

DB: Actually not, for several reasons. I had to sing the whole program in one concert and it had to cover the whole concept. More practically, for us it was very hard to get hold of the scores of these “old pieces” in general. That is, btw, why I asked Sebastian Zierer to make new orchestral arrangements of “Ein Lied geht um die Welt” and “Heut’ ist der schönste Tag.”

AML: And then there’s my favorite piece, “Freunde vernehmet” from Postillon von Lonjumeau. Collectors are familiar with the versions by Helge Rosvaenge (probably the first to record it with the high D), Schmidt and Nicolai Gedda, but I was absolutely delighted by the lightness of touch you used in your recording. I found a video on YouTube of you singing this same aria from 2013, and the approach was not quite as light in tone. What changed your approach to the music?

DB: I am not sure which recording that was, but I get in touch with this piece always once in a while. On my CD Mein Hamburg, for example, I made a version for piano trio and tenor with a new text about a famous pirate, well known in northern Germany as “Stoertebeker.” Though that version was much faster than the one on Nostalgia, I always want to focus on the story when I sing music with several strophes.

AML: OK, I have to ask you one thing. Since this was initially conceived as a tribute to Wunderlich, why did you not include one of his most famous operetta renditions like “O rose von Stambul”? I’m just curious!

DB: With the WRO, I recorded “Rose von Stambul” in 2005 at the Ruhrtriennale. We wanted to do something new. Though I would certainly sing this piece much nicer now than I did 12 years ago! J

AML: To change the subject for a moment, I’ve read nothing but rave reviews of your performance of David in Die Meistersinger at Bayreuth. That has to be one of the longest and most difficult light tenor roles ever written. Did you find it a challenge?

DB: David is a role which is easy to sing but hard to master. It’s not a very long role, but the second scene in the first act is long and important and sets the tone for all that follows. And it is a role which was sung by many great singers in the past and you get compared to them. On these terms I was very happy I did well, though I am preparing to sing Lohengrin in 2019 and Stolzing in 2021.

AML: Can you give my readers any indication of future recording projects?

DB: In 2018 I’m going to record a Mozart album with the L’Orfeo Barockorchester, and I’m composing and arranging a program for a Christmas CD. In January 2017 Oliver Schnyder and I recorded our second Richard Strauss Album. This album will be released much later, though, because there are too many releases right now and 2019 is the Strauss year…

AML: Thank you so much for your time, and good luck on your career!

And now, back to our regularly scheduled review.

Behle sings the majority of “Freunde, vernehmet die Geschichte” in half-voice, opening up in the top part of his range to thrilling effect. He also tosses in a couple of trills that neither Gedda nor Schmidt (who also recorded it) did not attempt, though Schmidt did do one near the end. This is the first song on which we hear the Köln Radio Chorus, which also pops in on Im Köln and the Schmidt tunes. Slezak’s 1905 recording of “Magische töne,” with its soft final high note floated out into the ether in perfectly-placed head voice, was so good that it even made Enrico Caruso jealous. Behle gives us a sort of combination head voice and falsetto, but still makes it work better than Caruso did (he sang it in pure falsetto on his own recording). And some of the soft notes that Behle sings prior to the ending almost resemble Slezak’s tonally. Yes, that is a compliment. By contrast, Behle sings “Komm, oh holde Dame” a shade louder in places than Slezak, yet maintains the almost flawless legato the older tenor was able to achieve.

He also gets a good feel for the Lehár pieces, giving them his own personal spin without aping Tauber’s style too much. This is all for the better since Behle actually has a higher, brighter instrument to work with than Tauber did, and to consciously recreate Tauber’s style would be antithetical to Behle’s own personal aesthetic.

Since I lacked both liner notes and a lyrics sheet, I don’t know what the words are for Behle’s own song Im Köln, but it’s a lively piece with some modern chord changes just to let you know it wasn’t really written in the 1930s. Winkler’s “Chianti lied,” with which I was previously unfamiliar, is given over entirely to the chorus, but the album ends with a bang, Schmidt’s famous Heut’ ist der Schönste Tag in meinem Leben, done up pink by Behle, the orchestra and the chorus.

If you have a fancy for these musical bonbons, you won’t be able to resist this recording. You’ll probably even try singing along, though I doubt that you’ll be able to come close to what Behle does here.

—© 2017 Lynn René Bayley

Follow me on Twitter! @Artmusiclounge

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