Marlis Petersen Seeks Dimensions

SM316-DF61BS3-V3_rot4-4

DIMENSIONEN INNER WELT / WEIGL: Seele. STRAUSS: Die Nacht. Ruhe, meine Seele. BRAHMS: Nachtwandler. Der Tod, das ist die kühle Nacht. Nachtigall. WOLF: Die Nacht. Mörike-Lieder: Gebet. SOMMER: Seliges Vergessen. SCHUBERT: Nacht und Träume. REGER: Schmied Schmerz. Abend. LISZT: Lasst mich ruhen. Hohe liebe. WAGNER: Wesendonck Lieder: Träume. FAURE: Après un rêve. Notre amour. HAHN: A Chloris. L’Enamourée. DUPARC: Chanson triste. RÖSSLER: Läuterung. STRAUSS-HÜBNER: Beim Schlafengehen (arr. for soprano, violin & piano). FÜRSTENTHAL: Einsang / Marlis Petersen, sop; Stephan Matthias Ladermann, pno; *Gregor Hübner, vln / Solo Musica-Sony SM316

It makes sense that here, in the 21st century, artists often have to group their sung or played recitals of old-timey classical music in packages such as this, in which soprano Marlis Peterson, a pupil of the fine Hungarian coloratura Sylvia Geszty, programs an entire recital of “dream world” lieder and chanson. I did the same thing myself once when I wanted a CD of music that would calm out my mind after a stressful day in order to get to sleep. So did Barbra Streisand in the 1970s when she produced her Classical Barbra album.

Unlike Streisand, who pretty much just sang the songs and lieder in a straightforward style, Petersen actually interprets the words of the songs in this album. That is a point in her favor. Another, which would easily have been taken for granted 20 years ago but can no longer, is that she has an extraordinarily beautiful voice.

Yet although both singer and pianist are recorded in a pleasant natural reverberation, her voice is closely miked. This certainly helps us appreciate her extraordinary beauty of tone, but it does not help to create the kind of ambience that “dream world” music would ideally have. That was the one thing that Streisand did very well, recording herself in a pop music acoustic of the time (mid-1970s) to create the illusion of a voice swimming overhead in the ether.

The impression given by this CD, then, is of the listener attending a live concert in which Petersen and her accompanist sing a program of soft, ethereal lieder and chanson. There is nothing wrong with this in and of itself, and as I say, her voice is extraordinary, but it doesn’t quite create the kind of ambience that she describes in the booklet:

We humans live and move in dimensions. In the here and now on our earth, in a WORLD we have made for ourselves. It is a place we know, where we feel at home…We let our souls soar and fly through the dark spaces of the INNER WORLD, a new, yet mysteriously familiar dimension.

The music and words may indeed be portraying an inner world, and she does her utmost to create this illusion, but the ambience is just a bit too clear. It lacks an element of opaqueness. This is by no means the artist’s fault, but that of the engineer who made the decisions.

Taken on its own merits as a vocal recital, however, it is superb. My sole complaint is that her accompanist, Stephan Mathias Ladermann, is just a bit too monochromatic in his approach. He does a fine job of playing softly so as to create a dream-like ambience, but his touch lacks a dream quality. A bit more of a rich, deep-in-the-keys feel, even at a quiet volume, would have done wonders, but alas we no longer have any Alfred Cortots among us. Just an FYI, I thought that some of the songs were just a shade too fast and too glib, such as Brahms’ Nachtigall, Wagner’s Träume and especially Schubert’ Nacht und Träume. And it wasn’t just a matter of speed; Petersen’s soft high notes weren’t quite soft enough to convey a dream image. (If you want to hear absolute perfection in Nacht und Träume, check out tenor Leo Slezak’s 1927 recording of it. It will being you to tears, I swear it will.) And then there is Max Reger’s Schmied Schmerz, a song so loud and rhythmically strong that it completely wakes you out of a dream state. What’s up with that?

Indeed, as the recital went on, I began to feel one very specific lack in Petersen’s art: the ability to color the voice and bring out shades of meaning  And it’s not just because her voice is inherently high and light; Elisabeth Schumann, who clearly had less sheer voice than Petersen, could convey color in every tone. Yes, Schumann occasionally distorted the musical line, although not to the extent that many of her peer did, but you always got a sense of what the song was about from her always-shifting timbres in addition to her lively sense of what the words meant and not what she thought they meant, if you know what I mean. Even with her faults, Schumann was an artist. Even with her virtues, Petersen is just a voice. A gorgeous voice, no question about it, but…just a voice.

And that’s my story and I’m sticking to it!

—© 2019 Lynn René Bayley

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