Tuesday, April 16

Brahms: Complete Songs, Vol 1 – Opp 32, 43, 86 and 105 review – masterful and revealing | Classical music

THEFor the last decade and more, no recital by Lieder has given me more intense pleasure than that of tenor Christoph Prégardien. Although he is now in his 60s, and his voice has inevitably lost some of its former splendor and flexibility with age, this Brahms album, recorded in 2020, confirms that the sheer intelligence of Prégardien’s performances, his immaculate diction, and the Perfect weight and color that he gives to each phrase, still evoking revealing interpretations of everything he sings. The collection sees the beginning of what Naxos plans to be a comprehensive study of Brahms songs. It’s unclear how much of the series will be assigned to Prégardien, but with Ulrich Eisenlohr as his partner, this first installment’s communicative power and mastery of every nuance make one expect the pair to engage regularly.

Brahms: Complete Songs, Vol 1 - Cover of the album Opp 32, 43, 86 and 105.
Brahms: Complete Songs, Vol 1 – Cover of the album Opp 32, 43, 86 and 105. Photography: Naxos

The four groups of songs cover nearly a quarter of a century in Brahms development, from the nine songs on Op 32, completed in 1864, to the five songs on Op 105, dating from 1888. As Eisenlohr notes in his detailed cover notes . The poems that Brahms composed are seldom of the highest class; In that sense, he differed in his approach to Lieder’s writing from his nineteenth-century predecessors, such as Schubert and Schumann; Gottfried Keller and Theodor Storm are probably the best known writers represented here. But each of these sets mixes and matches material from a variety of sources: Op 32, for example, juxtaposes German translations of the 14th-century Persian lyric poet Hafez with poems by the romantic August von Platen-Hallermünde, while Op 43 includes a text. from Des Knaben Wunderhorn, the folk collection that Mahler would later explore so extensively.

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Yet however humble or mundane the words may be, Prégardien treats them with the respect he would give a poem by Heine or Goethe, just as Brahms extracts every morsel of meaning in his settings. It is fair to say that there is no intrinsically good music here; what we do have, however, are outstanding performances of the 24 songs, each a product of Prégardien’s craft and his life’s experience in this repertoire.

Other selections this week

There is clarinetist Michael Collins’ most prominent Brahms on the BIS label, with the two Op 120 sonatas, which were written for his instrument just three years before the composer’s death. The Liberation marks Collins’ 60th birthday later this month, and the sonatas provide a perfect showcase for their creamy tone and excellent technical ease; Stephen Hough is the equally immaculate pianist. Their interpretation of the first sonata, in F minor, is intense and truly scrutinizing, that of the second, in E flat, lighter and more relaxed, while as an extra they add Collins’s own “adaptation” of the violin sonata in the Brahms major Op 100. , a more successful translation than one might imagine.


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