BERG: Jugendlieder: Vol. 1: No. 1, Herbstgefühl; No. 2, Spielleute; No. 4, Lied des Schiffermädels; No. 5, Sehnsucht I; No. 8, Vielgeliebte schöne Frau; No. 9, Sehnsucht II; No. 10, Sternefall; No. 14, Ich will die Fluren meiden; No. 15, Geliebte Schöne; No. 16, Schattenleben; No. 17, Am Abend; No. 21, Liebe; No. 23, Grabschrift. Vol. II: No. 1, Traum; No. 5, Süß sind mir die Schollen des Tales; No. 10, Winter; No. 11, Fraue, du Süße; No. 12, Verlassen; No. 13, Regen; No. 15, Hoffnung; No. 18, Eure Weisheit; No. 20, Mignon; No. 22, Das stille Königreich / Suré Eloff, soprano; Nathaniel Schmidt, pianist / Centaur CRC3438
South African-born soprano Suré Eloff, who studied both in Cape Town and at the University of Texas, Arlington, has a crystal-clear, pure voice with just a bit of a flutter in it. She is also a fine interpreter, which helps in the presentation of these early Berg songs.
It’s interesting to me that although your standard classical vocal fan can’t stomach any of Berg’s later music, they love his early songs. The reason I find this interesting is that, even in this music, there is something unusual going on in the harmony that leads one to believe that as he matured his music was going to change and change drastically; none of his early music is as “comfortable” to listen to as the contemporary songs of Wolf or young Zemlinsky. Even his mentor in 12-tone music, Arnold Schoenberg, wrote music that was more harmonically conventional than early Berg, and this comes out in song after song on this album (although “Regen,” from Vol. 2, is the most conventional of the lot). I should point out that the songs are not sung in the order presented in the header to this review but, rather, intermixed between Vols. 1 & 2, and even when two or three songs in a row are presented from the same volume, they are generally not in numerical order, but the sequencing used on this disc presents a nice contrast in both tempo and key as she moves from song to song.
The musical and emotional impact of each song is greatly helped by her accompanist, pianist Nathaniel Schmidt, on whom very little information is available online. All I could find on him was that he recorded an album of contemporary music titled Satellites on the Dancing Monkey label, and that he “returned” to downtown Calgary for a recital, which indicates to me that he is Canadian, yet he and Eloff make a wonderful duo here. Every little nuance in Eloff’s singing is mirrored and emphasized by his strong, emotional playing.
Overall, then, a very fine album. Although mezzo-soprano Julia Bentley, who also has a fine voice, recorded all of the Jugendlieder for Centaur in 2015, her pianist, Kuang-Hao Huang, isn’t half as expressive as Schmidt, but if you want all of Berg’s Jugendlieder I would recommend getting the Bentley set as well to fill out the set even though the Eloff-Schmidt duo is better in terms of emotional commitment.
—© 2021 Lynn René Bayley
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