Daniel Behle Sings “Un-erhört” Strauss

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STRAUSS: Winterweihe. Winterliebe. Waldseligkeit. Traum durch die dämmerung. Der Schmetterling. Morgenrot. Gesänge des Orients. Krämerspiegel / Daniel Behle, ten; Oliver Schnyder, pno / Prospero Classics PROSP011

Just to let you in a little bit into the life of an independent music reviewer like me: it took me forever to find the tracks from this album to review it. To begin with, though it was listed in the Naxos New Release guide for March 19/26, nothing—not even the cover—was available for download on their website for reviewers. Then, when I requested a hard copy of the CD to review, I was told that Prospero Classics does not provide reviewer copies. So I was up the proverbial feces creek without a paddle.

The good news is that I finally found the tracks from this album on YouTube for free streaming. The bad news is that, according to what I’ve seen online, Prospero Classics is famous for their lavish CD booklets and packaging, but I got none of that. Just the audio tracks and an image of the cover.

Happily, tenor Daniel Behle is one of the most interesting and versatile artists around, a man with a really lovely voice, excellent diction and expression, and an appetite for music ranging from the Classical era to the Neo-Classic (Stravinsky), so virtually everything he records is high on my wish list to review.

Without the booklet, I’m a little bit puzzled as to what is “Un-erhört” or “Unheard” about these Strauss songs. All have been recorded before, and in fact Behle had already recorded the first four tracks on this new disc elsewhere with the same pianist.

Oddly, I had never heard any of Behle’s lieder recordings prior to this release. From an interpretive standpoint, he is quit good, almost but not quite as excellent as the late Peter Schreier, but insofar as tenors went, Schreier was the gold standard for decades despite his somewhat “sandpapery” timbre. Behle has, as we all know, a lovely voice although I heard a bit of unsteadiness in his lower range; everything from the middle on up was solid. If I had to compare him to a past German tenor vocally, it would probably be Peter Anders, who unfortunately is not as well known as many others because he died in an accident in the early 1950s, but except for his marvelous Winterreise Anders was no match for Behle as a lied interpreter. He treats us to some exquisite head voice in Waldseligkeit the likes of which I’ve not heard in many years, and in Morgenrot one hears, (as in other songs as well) how perfectly he blends his head register into the voice—no breaks, everything seamless.

Although none of this music is “unheard,,” the two cycles Gesäng des Orients and Krämerspiegel are not very common. I have both in the marvelous set of Strauss’ complete works for voice and piano put together by Brigitte Fassbarnder for the Two Pianist label, and in both Behle is head and shoulders above tenors Jeongkon Choi in the former and Brenden Gunnell in the latter. They sound like promising up-and-coming artists, but Behle is the master class teacher. Just listen to the last song in this cycle, “Huldigung,” and marvel at Behle’s vocal control. I admit that I haven’t heard every modern-day tenor, but I seriously doubt that he has any serious competition as both a vocalist AND an interpreter.

The latter cycle is probably Strauss’ most fanciful and least often performed, the lyrics having to do with the adventures and antics of a goat and a hare, although in the seventh song the poet, Alfred Kerr, warns us that “Our enemy is, please God, both the Briton and the Scot. He has stretched some innocents on the rack.” (This would never fly in today’s PC world.) The former cycle has more conventional lyrics about one’s beloved, and the melodic-harmonic construction of these songs is some of Strauss’ finest, recalling the exquisite subtleties of his late opera, Daphne (in my view, the only really inspired music he wrote after parts of Der Rosenkavalier). The music in Krämerspiegel ranges from artistic (the very complex and modern-sounding “Drei Masken sah ich am Himmel stehe” and “Es war mal eine Wanze”) to popular tunes (especially the gay waltz song “Einst kamm der Bock als Bote”) and is a lot of fun. In some of the songs, particularly “Unser Fein dist grosser Gott,” Behle himself has fun, doing a bit of scenery-chewing while singing the lyrics.

No two ways about it, you have to chalk this CD up as another triumph for Behle. If you like Strauss songs, you really should get this CD, and if you’re an aspiring young tenor you should get it as a sort of portable master class in how to manage the tenor voice.

—© 2021 Lynn René Bayley

Follow me on Twitter (@Artmusiclounge) or Facebook (as Monique Musique)

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