Discovering Walter Braunfels

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BRAUNFELS: Witches’ Sabbath, Op. 8 for Piano & Orchestra. Konzertstücke, Op. 64 for Piano & Orchestra. Hebridean Dances / Tatjana Blome, pno; Deutsche Staatsphilharmonie Rheinland-Pfalz; Gregor Bühl, cond / Capriccio C5345

According to the notes for this release, “Walter Braunfels is a composer whose music died twice: Once when the Nazis declared his music ‘degenerate art,’ then again when post-war Germany had little use for the various schools of tonal music; when the arbiters of taste considered any form of romantic music – almost the whole pre-war aesthetic – to be tainted.” This is the sixth CD in Capriccio’s Braunfels edition with two world premiere recordings, the first and last works.

Although the Witches’ Sabbath contains some “demonic” effects, it is not nearly as weird as Berlioz’ Symphonie Fantastique, yet Braunfels was clearly a solid composer who used classical form in a sort of Straussian aesthetic with a little Scriabin thrown in for flavor. What helps is that both pianist Blome and conductor Bühl dig into this music with an almost Slavic intensity of expression; they really want you to enjoy and be impressed by this music, and their approach works miracles. In addition, Braunfels really knew musical principles inside and out and wasn’t afraid to attempt dramatic flourishes. From start to finish, this is a spectacular piece that deserves much wider circulation.

The Konzertstücke from 1946 is also a dramatic work, this time with pregnant pauses in the stately opening (and oftimes dramatic) opening section. When the tempo picks up, it is with an insistent sort of march rhythm which then morphs into a middle-tempo, odd tune played by the bassoon while the piano weaves its busy way in and out of the orchestral texture.

The Hebridean Dances from the 1950s is, perhaps, less adventurous music than the first two works, but no less well crafted, using minor keys and descending chromatic harmonies to make its point. The second piece in this suite reveals another side of Braunfels, as the music is broad and atmospheric, while the third is an upbeat little dance in asymmetric rhythm while the fourth is an odd, spacey little piece that sounds Middle Eastern.

All in all, a fascinating glimpse into the work of a very serious and very interesting composer who appears to have always been open to new things. Well worth acquiring!

—© 2018 Lynn René Bayley

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Nagano Conducts Rihm and Beintus

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RIHM: Das Gehege.* BEINTUS: Le Petite Prince+ / *Rayanne Dupuis, sop; +Kirsten Ecke, harp; +Eva-Christiana Schönweiss, vln; Deutsches Symphonie-Orch. Berlin; Kent Nagano, cond / Capriccio C5337

I was not provided any liner notes with the download of this album for review, but only the following blurb on the Naxos download site:

When Kent Nagano assumed the direction of the Bavarian State Opera in Munich in autumn 2006, he had intended a new production of Richard Strauss’ Salome as one of the first premieres. He wanted to precede the challenging one-act opera after Oscar Wilde’s drama with a new music theatre work. He turned to Wolfgang Rihm. “I replied,” Rihm said in an interview with Die Zeit: “There’s only one thing: the final scene from Schlusschor by Botho Strauß. Nagano’s commission became the catalyst in transforming this desire into reality. This is the genesis of Das Gehege, a nocturnal scene for soprano and orchestra. Kent Nagano and Jean-Pascal Beintus (* 1966) met in the orchestra pit of the Opéra de Lyon in 1988. After considering the first orchestral manuscripts, the maestro, known for his openness and great erudition, encouraged the young man to expand his musical career. Several pictorial projects came to Nagano’s mind, which he entrusted to Beintus’ musical imagination: first, Wolf Tracks for reciter and orchestra (recorded with the speakers Bill Clinton and Mikhail Gorbachov), for which Beintus was awarded a Grammy in 2004, before in 2008 writing for the family concerts of the German Symphony Orchestra in Berlin a suite on Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s omnipresent The Little Prince.

All of which sounds pretty confusing and politically slanted to me, and in my mind The Little Prince is complete rubbish, but there you are. Without visuals, however, all we have to go by on this CD is the actual music. The Rihm piece, interesting modern music which is well-written and dramatic, is sadly marred by the loose vibrato (read: wobble) of soprano Rayenne Dupuis. To editorialize a moment, in the old days conductors actually went to great lengths to procure the services of singers without wobbles, strained top ranges etc. whenever they recorded a work—any work, whether modern or old-timey. Nowadays, it seems as if whatever the hell is available is what gets on records, and although Dupuis seems to give a pretty dramatic reading of the text (whatever it is), and surprisingly has a good low range, the overall effect is consistently marred by her incessant wobbling. Like much of Rihm’s music, the phrases have no real endings or resolutions, but merely feed into the next sequence with frequent mood shifts. It’s intellectually interesting music, but not emotionally moving except in Dupuis’ delivery of the text. Unfortunately, all I could find about Strauβ’ Schlusschor was the following:

The piece consists of three almost completely separate documents, each portraying a group of people. In the first act titled See and be seen, there are 15 men and women posing for a group photo. While the photographer is looking for the right shot, the people in four rows are talking in confusion. They are incoherent, individual scraps of conversation, which could come from any company outing.

The photo shoot is long (photographer: “I photograph you until you are a face, a head – a mouth – a look, a face!”), The group becomes impatient and begins to make absurd threats against the To eject photographers. After a “cannonade of short loud orders” it gets dark. “When it gets light again,” the director’s statement says, “the photographers only have a bundle of clothes and their shoes on the floor.” – The second act is entitled Lorenz vor dem Spiegel (From the World of Providence). Lorenz is an architect and is mistaken in the door of his client Delia’s apartment. He surprised the naked Delia in the bathroom – a trivial incident with a tragic outcome. In the subsequent conversation – actually about the extension of their attic – the language comes in increasingly mannered becoming, mythically exaggerated tone again and again on the accidental encounter in the bathroom.

While comparing Delia’s unadorned beauty with works of art, she reminds him of the fate of Actaeon, whom the hunting goddess Diana, after seeing her in the bathroom, turned into a deer and then was mangled by his own dogs. The second scene takes place in the cloakroom of a villa, which is visited by the guests of a party – one by one, in pairs – by the “woman in reed green”, the “unthought”, the “bitter man”. Fragments of the party conversation can be heard. Among the guests is Lorenz, the architect who repeatedly steps in front of the large wardrobe mirror to encourage himself for his encounter with Delia.

When he, after a seemingly failed performance, just wants to go, Delia appears in the mirror, “naked as in the beginning, in the same pose”. Lorenz shoots himself. – The third act, from now on, takes place in a restaurant. Between the conversation of the guests proclaimed “The caller”, who in the second act again and again drew attention with a bellowed “Germany”, the fall of the wall. A couple from the other appear and the noblewoman Anita von Schastorf relies on her monarchical dreams. The piece ends with Anita releasing a golden eagle from the zoo to kill.

Three groups of people, as it were three choirs, but not singing in unison, but, resolved into more or less faceless figures, banalities in between two dead and – brilliant conclusion – the slaughtered heraldic animal of the Federal Republic – but everything seems equally significant or insignificant , the little private stories as well as the sometimes conjured up myths and – the historical moment of the fall of the Wall.

Benjamin Henrichs called the play “the microscopy of the micro drama”: “the shortest and fastest pieces in the world: every movement a drama for itself.” At the same time he sees in it “something like the final assembly of all known Botho-Strauss faces and – feelings. A pile of shards, a garbage table, a crawl box of the most beautiful sentences and effects. Not a “museum of passions” but a bazaar of bagatelles. ”

I hope this helps. I confess to being baffled by all this German expressionism: killing golden eagles from a zoo, “unthoughts:” of “bitter men,” etc. And how this relates to Salome seems pretty far-fetched to me. But then, although I certainly do like a certain amount of symbolism, I’ve always felt that too much of it is just intellectual B.S.

By contrast, Beintus’ Little Prince suite is modern music with classical form and charm, although with a heavy dose of Romantic goop in the opening piece. This, however, changes in the second piece, “Apparition du Petit Prince,” which has more interesting harmonies, but returns in the third and continues to the end.

If I had the full text to the Rihm piece I might appreciate it more. The music is indeed interesting despite the heavy symbolism. The second piece is sure to turn up on your local classical music station in the near future! Excellent performances of both, however.

—© 2018 Lynn René Bayley

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The Lyrique Quintette Celebrate Arrivals & Departures

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ARRIVALS AND DEPARTURES: MUSIC OF THE AMERICAS / Del AGUILÁ: Wind Quintet No. 3. LUSSIER: Dos Tropicos. LAVISTA: Cinco Danzas Breves. MUELLER: Veni Variationes. VERDIÉ: Tangoescente. D’RIVERA: La Fleur de Cayenne. Aires Tropicales / Lyrique Quintette / Mark Records 52787

 The composers on this CD represent various countries in the Americas: Uruguay (Miguel del Aguilá), Canada (Mathieu Lussier), Mexico (Mario Lavista), the United States (Robert Mueller…I did a double-take on that name!, and Adriana Verdié), and Cuba (Paquito d’Rivera, who is also a famous jazz saxophonist). From a certain standpoint, this seems like an Identity Politics Album (I don’t see chamber groups making CDs of various European composers under the title “Music of the EU”), but happily most of the music is interesting.

Del Aguilá’s wind quintet is a moody, lyrical piece with a few interesting harmonic twists, and in the slow first movement a surprising double-time passage for the clarinetist (Nophachal Cholthitchanta) in the low of chalumeau register of his instrument, later moving into the upper range, which gives a spikier harmonic edge to the piece. The second movement, titled “Bright and Dark,” features a medium-tempo theme played by four of the winds while flautist Ronda Mains twitters brightly above them. This quintet has a wonderful ensemble blend, with the rich tone of French hornist Timothy Thompson the glue that holds their sound together. Del Aquilá has a fine sense of construction; the music goes somewhere, and thank goodness it doesn’t rely on edgy, jagged sound effects from the ensemble to make its point. The “Giacoso” finale features the quintet in jolly counterpoint, yet with unusual pauses and alternate themes to hold one’s interest. An excellent piece of music.

Lussier’s Dos Tropicos may seem an odd choice for a Canadian composer as it is obviously Latin music; indeed, in style and form it sounded like an extension of del Aguilá’s piece; but it, too, is well-constructed if somewhat blander in sound, with few surprises in its lyric flow until we reach the faster section towards the end. The Latin contingent then continues with Lavista’s five Danzas Breves, light but intriguing pieces with plenty of counterpoint for the ensemble. I particularly liked the loping theme of the second, slow piece (“Lento, flessible”) and the strange-sounding “Adagio.”

Mueller’s Veni Variaciones, again Latin-oriented, nonetheless contains some elements of old-style polyphony. It’s a fascinating work due to the composer’s strong emphasis on a continuing structure. The final variation is especially complex, pitting a slow tempo in the main tune against syncopated figures played by the flute and clarinet. Verdié’s Tangoescente continues the Latin theme in an edgier-sounding piece, although the music has very little resemblance to a tango beat. Rather, it features a sort of ground bass played by bassoonist Lia Uribe against a lyrical theme by the oboe and syncopated figures by the others.

We then get the first of two pieces by d’Rivera, La Fleur de Cayenne, initially played out of tempo in the introduction, then introducing Cuban jazz rhythms which the quintet plays fairly well for a classical ensemble. This features a heavy amount of counterpoint in a quasi-Latin rhythm but still with an asymmetric beat. It eventually becomes very complex rhythmically, so much so that without a score I found it difficult to follow the beat! The Aires Tropicales are harmonically complex but rhythmically a bit simpler, although in “Dizzyness” d’Rivera throws in the famous opening lick from Dizzy Gillespie’s A Night in Tunisia. Complexity returns in the “Contradanza” with its jazz-oriented backbeats played against Cuban rhythms.

A fascinating disc, and I especially comment the engineer who balanced the recording. Every instrument was perfectly placed to achieve maximum clarity and a perfect ensemble blend!

—© 2018 Lynn René Bayley

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Boughton & Jones Play Joubert

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JOUBERT: Piano Concerto.* Symphony No. 3 / *Martin Jones, pno; BBC National Orch. of Wales; William Boughton, cond / Lyrita SRCD367

South African-born, British composer John Joubert, who celebrated his 91st birthday on March 20 of this year, is a fairly conservative writer whose music is not much known outside the British Isles. The Piano Concerto, which dates from 1958, is apparently typical of his oeuvre: sprightly rhythms and an interesting use of chromatics within his essentially tonal style. He uses a very economical four-note theme as the launching pad for the first movement, and although I am not ready to put him in the same category with York Bowen, it is very fine music indeed. Joubert is quoted in the booklet as saying, “Communication is important to me. I want to be understood, enjoyed and used. I do not want to live in the enclosed and artificial world of ‘Contemporary Music,’ but in the repertory of musicians whom I respect, in the schools, in the churches, and in the theatre.” I would think that this brilliantly-played recording would ensure him of that. The second movement I found to be even more original than the first, using almost modal harmonies with a bright wind texture à la Stravinsky, and quite powerful orchestral climaxes that belie its designated tempo of “Lento.”

Another thing I really like about Joubert is that he is very economical in his use of material; none of his music overstays its welcome, and is always fascinating enough to hold the listener’s attention. Nowhere is this more evident than in the last movement of the concerto, which starts with an actual “Lento” theme before moving into the “Allegro vivace.” It’s always a trap for composers to write such movements without sounding as if they are simply recycling material in order to keep the momentum up (think of the last movement of the Schubert Ninth Symphony). Joubert has no such problem, for despite the continual forward momentum his music is always changing and morphing.

The Third Symphony, by contrast, was composed between 2014 and 2017 when Joubert was a young man of 87-90 years old! It is based on “Themes from ‘Jane Eyre,’” but the music is nowhere near as echt-Romantic as the plot of that famous book. Joubert has been quoted as saying that if he had his way he would write opera and “nothing but opera,” and this symphony gave him an opportunity to write “operatically” for orchestra. His themes, again, are lyrical but not maudlin or sappy; his acute sense of harmonic movement precludes such a predictable outcome. The symphony’s five movements are titled “Lowood School – Lento,” “Thornfield House – Lento-Allegro,” “Thornfield Church – Andante-Allegro,” “Whitecross Rectory – Lento-Allegro” and “Thornfield Park – Allegro,” and each is masterfully conceived and executed. Boughton, who is one of my favorite British conductors not widely known here across the pond, gives the music a muscular, dramatic reading that in itself belies its Romantic inspiration. Even such lyrical episodes as the second movement keep the listener on the edge of his or her seat, enjoying the composer’s very personal and fascinating mode of musical progression. None of his harmonic movement is predictable or formulaic; everything is an adventure. This is clearly music that would not be played on most American classical music stations, and thank goodness for that!

In the third movement, Joubert uses dramatic pauses within the opening “Andante,” yet keeps things moving in an interesting way. He then develops the “Allegro” with jumping, asymmetric figures, juxtaposing strings, winds and brass in unusual ways. The only part of the symphony that disappointed me was the very ending of the last movement: to my ears, somewhat predictable and bombastic. Otherwise, it’s a fine piece of music.

I strongly recommend a listen to this CD. It’s well worth your while.

—© 2018 Lynn René Bayley

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Cervini’s Turboprop is Full of Abundance

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ABUNDANCE / DAVIDSON: The Queen. DAMERON: Tadd’s Delight. ARLEN: My Shining Hour. CHAPLIN: Smile. LOOMIS: Abundance Overture. FARRUGIA: The Ten Thousand Things. CERVINI: Gramps. Song for Cito / Turboprop: William Carn, tb; Tara Davidson, a-sax/fl/s-sax; Joel Frahm, t-sax; Adrean Farrugia, pno; Dan Loomis, bs; Ernesto Cervini, dm / Anzic Records ANZ-0063

Ernesto Cervini is a Canadian jazz drummer and leader of his own band, Turboprop, in addition to acting as a promoter of other Canadian jazz artists through Orange Grove Publicity. He is, in addition, a nice man and a musicians with “open ears,” as they say, since he promotes a wide range of jazz styles (some of which, and he knows this, I don’t care for), but within his own band there’s a big but imaginary sign hanging up that says, “True Jazz Spoken Here.”

His newest album, due for release on October 5, is a typical example of the high artistic standards he sets for himself and his musicians. The opener, written by the band’s reed player Tara Davidson, is a wild piece in asymmetric rhythm, with Cervini’s drums churning in the background as the horns play the opening theme statement before moving quickly into a brilliant piano solo by Adrean Farrugia, followed by the composer herself on alto sax. This band not only swings, they’re highly creative soloists who feed into each other with aplomb. Cervini’s own solo is exciting and equally inventive, using cross-rhythms with apparent ease.

I was delighted to see a composition here by Tadd Dameron, the brilliant but self-destructive jazz composer-arranger from the late 1940s/early ‘50s. The original version was by bop legend Theodore “Fats” Navarro in 1949, issued under the title Sid’s Delight (as a tribute to legendary jazz club announcer and DJ “Symphony Sid” Torin). This one really jumps, with tight, excellent solos all round. Two other “old-timers” make an appearance next: Harold Arlen, next to Johnny Mercer the jazziest of jazz-influenced pop tune writers, and Charles Chaplin, who didn’t have a jazz bone in his body. Turboprop predictably makes a nice soufflé of Arlen’s My Shining Hour, with imaginative rhythmic displacements, embellishments on the original theme, unusual harmonic shifts and quick little solos by Davidson on soprano sax, Carn, Frahm and Farrugia, while Cervini pounds the percussion happily in the background. Chaplin’s Smile (a theme for the Muscular Dystrophy Association’s annual telethons for decades) is played lyrically by Carn on trombone while the reeds provide nice little fills behind him. Carn then gets the bulk of the solo space, doubling the tempo and expanding on Chaplin’s theme.

Dan Loomis’ whimsical Abundance Overture begins with Cervini playing a sort of tap dance on the rims of his snare drum, with the flute, saxophone and trombone entering in a sort of Irish jig tempo. Loomis’ bass then “toughens up” the rhythm with some tight jazz playing in tandem with the leader, and Farrugia’s piano leads us into solo-land. A bit of handclapping backs up a two-part fugue played by the alto and tenor saxes before leading back into the ensemble. What a nifty arrangement!

Although written by pianist Farrugia, The Ten Thousand Things is centered around the bass, which plays the opening chorus and remains a strong presence under the reeds when they perform the theme. When Farrugia does enter, it is after a pause, and the tempo drops down to a slow ballad while he plays a sort of fantasia. The tempo eventually picks back up again and  the whole band plays interesting scored figures, with Frahm on tenor coming out of the ensemble for an excellent solo. A free-form, wild jam ends it. Cervini’s Gramps, a ballad, opens with some soft brush work by the leader, with the two reeds and arco bass playing the simple theme. Eventually a sort of canon is set up between the tenor sax and trombone behind Davidson on alto. The finale, Song for Cito, is a relaxed 6/8 sort of piece backed by the leader’s enthusiastic drums. Pianist Farrugia is the solo star of this one, however, and he connects the musical material very well. A sort of quick “ta-da!” tag ending closes the piece, and the CD.

This is another fine outing for this talented band, and I highly recommend it to your attention.

—© 2018 Lynn René Bayley

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Carlos Kalmar Presents “Aspects of America”

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ASPECTS OF AMERICA / SHEPHERD: Magiya. CURRIER: Microsymph. ROUSE: Supplica. BUNCH: Aspects of an Elephant. BARBER: Souvenirs / Oregon Symphony; Carlos Kalmar, cond / Pentatone Classics 5186 727

Well, if it’s modern American music you’re after, this is a CD for you. With the exception of Samuel Barber, who died in 1981, none of these composers are in the classical mainstream, and of the others the only name I recognized was that of Sebastian Currier, whose music I have been singing the praises of for the past decade. Sadly, none of the modern American composers represented here are women—part for the course, sadly. We doesn’t write nothin’ gud.

The concert opens on a highly dramatic note with Sean Shepherd’s Magiya or Magic. Like close to 80% of modern classical music nowadays, it’s spiky and edgy, with brilliant brass and biting winds playing atonal, serrated figures. It might be nice if, once in a while, some of these modern composers would display a little individuality. (It reminds me of that scene from Monty Python’s Life of Brian where Brian tells his unwanted band of groupies to think for themselves and be individuals, to which they all chant, in unison, “YES. WE’RE ALL INDIVIDUALS.”) That being said, young (b. 1979) Shepherd clearly understands musical construction and thus gives us a fine piece of music with development that also includes the juxtaposition of different rhythmic elements. It’s an interesting opener if a bit of a cliché.

Currier, whose music (I feel) sort of initiated this style (he’s 20 years older than Shepherd), presents a Microsymph in the same vein but with even more stringent classical form beneath his sharp, jagged lines. The slow movement of this work also has a somewhat lyrical quality about it that I found attractive, almost sounding like Viennese operetta music of the 1920s. This clearly shows how he is able to re-use older styles (although this tune seems to me wholly original) within his own aesthetic. He also has a sense of humor, which I appreciate, often ending phrases or movements in the “middle of nowhere.”

By contrast, Christopher Rouse’s Supplica is a well-written lyric piece in the tradition of Barber’s Adagio for Strings, beautifully conceived and contrasting the styles of the first two composers. The Oregon Symphony plays this, and indeed all of the pieces on this disc, with outstanding feeling and style.

Aspects of an Elephant, by 45-year-old Portland composer Kenji Bunch, struck me as the most original piece on this CD. At least, it is clearly the most different. Bunch writes in a style that seems to combine elements of Stravinsky, Barrtók and Ligeti in his melodic and harmonic arsenal. This unusual five-part suite traces elephantine “aspects” such as a whip, a spear, a silk cloth, a tree, a snake and a throne. In the liner notes, Bunch explains that he drew his inspiration from “the timeless parable of the so-called Blind Men and the Elephant, of which various versions have appeared throughout Asia and Europe since the 13th century.” Much of this suite is lyrical, though using lean, Stravinskian textures and melodic themes that play against the occasional rhythmic aspects of the score. It is clearly the work of a fine composer. In “The Elephant is a Tree,” he does a fine job of simulating the lumbering gait of a pachyderm, and in “The Elephant is a Snake” he uses rapid string and xylophone figures played against bongo drums. This is very clever and imaginative music!

Although I am not normally a fan of Samuel Barber’s extended orchestral music, which I find derivative and overly melodic in a syrupy sort of way, I found his 1952 ballet suite Souvenirs charming in its own way if overlong.

In toto, then, an interesting album, particularly recommended for the Currier and Bunch pieces.

—© 2018 Lynn René Bayley

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Hannigan Presents Vienna in the Fin de Siècle Era

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SCHÖNBERG: 4 Lieder. WEBERN: 5 Lieder on the Poetry of Richard Dehmel. BERG: 7 Frühen Lieder. ZEMLINSKY: Aus Lieder, Opp. 2, 5 & 7. A. MAHLER: 5 Lieder: Die stille stadt; Laue Sommernacht; Ich wandle unter blumen. 4 Lieder: Licht in der nacht. WOLF: Goethe-Lieder: Mignon I-III; Kennst du das land / Barbara Hannnigan, sop; Reinbert de Leeuw, pno / Alpha 393

Barbara Hannigan is an outstanding höch sopran who, like Patricia Petibon two decades ago, enjoys presenting herself in bizarre settings as sort of a “bad girl” of music. The difference is that Petibon specializes in early music while Hannigan sings primarily 12-tone and modern music. She has performed Berg’s Lulu in a semi-insane production while on pointe throughout the performance (and mostly in a bra and panties) and Ligeti’s Mystère du Macabre with Sir Simon Rattle dressed as a slutty schoolgirl popping bubblegum. Whether or not you like these things (I don’t), she is surely a great talent vocally and interpretively as this recital amply proves.

One of her greatest attributes is her ability to sing modern music as music, meaning that she phrases with a true musical line, with superb legato and phrasing, in addition to being able to interpret superbly. In this respect she is quite different from Petibon, who sings early music with a very impassioned and oftimes forceful delivery, rendering the scores as if they were passionate Romantic lieder.

In this endeavor, Hannigan is superbly aided by Dutch pianist Reinbert de Leeuw, whose playing style matches her own. From the very first notes of “Erwärtung,” the first of Schoenberg’s Op. 2 lieder, one enters a world of gentle caresses that are, surprisingly, emotionally charged without being the least bit mushy. It is an incredible achievement, and she brings the same sensibilities to the music of Anton Webern, whose music is almost always sung with a more angular sense of phrasing. Occasionally, as in “Himmelfährt,” she drains the voice of vibrato to create a haunting effect. All this is the work of a master singer.

And yet…somehow or other, Hannigan manages to make most of these songs, regardless of composer or style, sound very much alike. A rare exception is Alma Mahler’s “Ich wandle unter Blumen” with its more dramatic outburst near the end. Good or bad? I leave this decision up to you, the listener. As a specific recital of very well-chosen songs meant to express a very specific German meaning, Sehnsucht, which is literally untranslatable into English, it works very well. As the liner notes point out, “A more romantic German song text than this poem does not exist! So many composers set it, for example Schubert (six times!) and Schumann. Their songs are undoubtedly beautiful, but what Wolf did (and that was only possible at the end of the 19th century), moved it really so much further. In Wolf’s setting, the text and the music are so intertwined that one can hardly imagine anymore that they were ever separate things. At this pinnacle in the development of Lieder, music gives the word a meaning which becomes bigger than the word itself.”

This recital is indeed lovely in the truest sense of the word. None of this music is low-level, based-on-popular-music-of-the-time stuff. It is most definitely high art, but a very sensual form of high art.

—© 2018 Lynn René Bayley

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