Konstantin Krimmel’s Ballad Recital

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SAGA / LOEWE: Tom der Reimer. Herr Oluf. Erlkönig. Odins Meeresritt. JENSEN: Die Braut. Rübezahl. Waldesgespräch. SCHUBERT: Der Zwerg. Gruppe aus dem Tartarus. Prometheus. SCHUMANN: Belsatzar. Die Feindlichen Brüder. Die Beiden Grenadiere / Konstantin Krimmel, bar; Doriana Tchakarova, pno / Alpha 549

This CD is titled Saga because it focuses on ballads rather than lieder, the difference being, as the liner notes explain, “texts and myths by a variety of poets depicting dwarves, megalomaniac kings, seductive women, Nordic deities, wrecked lives and eternal damnation.” It begins with the “sheltered world of Tom the Rhymer [poet]” which “is almost too good to be true. He enjoys every day for itself and seems to be completely carefree.” The last song, Loewe’s Odins Meeresritt, relates the gratitude of the god-father Odin for his blacksmith, whose handiwork lets him go into battle. In between we get a variety of other scenarios, including Schumann’s famous song about the two grenadiers who, upon leaving a Russian prison, arrive in Germany only to discover than their native France has lost its Emperor. I only wish that Krimmel had included Loewe’s Edward, one of the darkest and most dramatic pieces he ever wrote, which certainly would have fit the scheme of this CD.

I should point out, in case the reader has not yet figured it out, that the songs are not presented in the order listed above but rather dovetailed quite differently:

1  Loewe: Tom der Reimer
2  Jensen: Die Braut
3  Jensen: Rübezahl
4  Loewe: Herr Oluf
5  Loewe: Erkönig
6  Jensen: Waldesgespräch
7  Schubert: Der Zwerg
8  Schubert: Gruppe aus dem Tartarus
9  Schumann: Belsatzar
10 Schumann: Der Feindliches Brüder
11 Schumann: Die Beiden Grenadiere
12 Schubert: Prometheus
13 Loewe: Odins Meeresritt

Konstantin Krimmel has a beautiful baritone voice with both a nice, rich bottom and a surprisingly airy, almost tenor-ish top. There’s not much to judge him by in Tom der Reimer except to say that he doesn’t sound as happy and carefree in it as Leo Slezak or Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau did. On the contrary, he sounds quite serious and poker-faced, and this is to the detriment of the lyrics which, as I pointed out above, are light and carefree.

I had never heard or heard of composer Adolf Jensen (1837-1879) before, but his music is as sweet and melodic as that of Loewe or Schubert. The lyrics of Die Braut depict a love song situation where two lovers meet for the last time, since the woman is due to be married the next day to a man she does not love so she drowns herself in the sea. Krimmel gives some emphasis to the line “Vom Schlosse Musik erschalle / Hin über das blaue Meer” (Let music resound from the castle / Over the blue sea), but otherwise, he again underplays the lyrics, giving us very beautiful singing (and a superb legato) without much interpretation.

The same composer’s Rübezahl describes dwarves mining “molten streams of metal” while the prince of the mountain spirits mopes sadly that the golden hoard does not benefit him. In this song, Krimmel does indeed sound more animated and interested in the lyrics. Next up is Loewe’s Herr Oluf, about a Lord who is to be married the next day and so is not permitted to dance with the elves when they invite him. To this whimsical text, however, Loewe wrote music with an undercurrent of menace to its merriment, and for good reason: because Sir Oluf refused to dance with the elves, they kill him before his wedding. Krimmel does fairly well in this ballad, too. In Loewe’s Erlkönig, set to the same Goethe text as the more famous Schubert version, he does not make much of the difference in vocal timbre between narrator, father and son, though he does sing in a much lither tone as the erl-king. He also doesn’t impart much in the way of fear or menace except for the moment when the erl-king grabs the young boy’s soul.

One of the reasons this recital falls flat is the very blah, uninflected accompaniment of Doriana Tchakarova. She seldom plays with any real involvement or force, even when she is supposed to, and thus doesn’t really help Krimmel in the least with his interpretations. For an example of what I mean, listen to Johannes Martin Kränzle with pianist Hilko Dumno perform Herr Oluf (and also Loewe’s Edward) and you’ll see what I mean. Although Kränzle has a very fine voice, and an attractive one, it doesn’t match Krimmel’s for sheer beauty of tone, but Kränzle is more consistently engaged with the lyrics whereas Krimmel is too “cool” most of the time.

But then, suddenly, we reach Schubert’s Der Zwerg (The Dwarf) and Gruppe aus dem Tartarus, and Krimmel seems to have suddenly woken up from his dazed stupor and realized that he is indeed supposed to interpret these songs. He performs these, and the songs following them, extremely well. The Schumann group, performed as a set rather than broken up as he did with Loewe, Jensen and Schubert, is consistently excellent, as is Schubert’s Prometheus which follows. The concluding Odins Meeresritt isn’t bad, either.

A split review, then, regarding the quality of his interpretations, but even in the under-sung ballads, it’s a pleasure to listen to him. Voices like Krimmel’s certainly don’t grow on trees nowadays.

—© 2019 Lynn René Bayley

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