Brahms lieder6 9994462

Déjà Review: this review was first published in October 2002 and the recording is still available.

Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)
Lieder – Complete Edition Volume 6
Neun Gesänge, Opus 69 (1877)
Vier Gesänge, Opus 70 (1875-77)
Funf Gesänge, Opus 71 (1877)
Funf Gesänge, Opus 72 (1876-77)
Juliane Banse (soprano)
Andreas Schmidt (baritone)
Helmut Deutsch (piano)
rec. 1996-98, Kleiner Sendesaal, Berlin
cpo 999 446-2 [56]

There are two alternative ways of recording songs: having mixed selections chosen by the artists, as in a recital, or in groupings for publication as made by the composer. In their complete survey of the Brahms songs, cpo have chosen the latter route, which is too rarely found. It certainly helps the collector to know what is going on, and it helps also as far as searching out reference material is concerned. Not that the latter is so important as far as this issue is concerned, since cpo have provided lengthy introductory essays on the music, and there are full texts and translations, nicely laid out, and using paper thick enough to be able to read just one side at a time. The size of the print is likely to serve as a substitute for an optician’s eye test, however.

These artists have recorded all the earlier Brahms songs between them during the course of this cycle of recordings, of which this issue is volume 6. It is therefore no surprise that they have total command of the idiom, their technical resourcefulness and accomplishment serving in the cause of sensitivity to the music and the text. This is particularly important, since as so often with this composer, the themes involved require some sympathy of feeling from the artists: longing and regret are seldom far away.

That is not to suggest that Brahms’s range as a song-writer is narrow. For even within a group such as his Opus 72, there is the surprising inclusion of a comic song when the agenda is generally dark. This is ‘Unüberwindlich’ (‘Insuperable’), a drinking song to words by Goethe, and Andreas Schmidt handles it brilliantly. The earlier songs among the set are nostalgic in tone, perhaps reflecting the influence of Schumann, and Schmidt, who sings the whole group, does so with marvellous breath control and tonal variety. The accompaniments of Helmut Deutsch ensure that subtleties are experienced and tempi are judged to perfection.

Juliane Banse is also on the top of her form. Her tone is naturally bright, which of course intensifies the contrasts when she is working in partnership with Schmidt. But she also deserves praise in her own right, since her deeply felt contributions make a really telling effect. Consider, for example, the beautifully restrained Lerchengesang (Lark’s Song), the second song of the Opus 70 set. Her attention to details of dynamics is exemplary, and makes the most of the opportunities provided by one of Brahms’s most beautiful responses to poetry. The memories of past loves, considered among the sounds of nature, have never been more poignantly expressed.

If there is a criticism to be made, it is that Schmidt inclines to slow tempi, relying on richness of tone rather than nobility of line. This, of course, is never more than a matter of degree, and is probably more noticeable in Sümmerfäden, Opus 72 No. 2, when the touch is surely too heavy for a text which deals with likening gossamer threads caught in shrubbery to the frailness of love.

However, it would be wrong to dwell for long on a single interpretation out of a total of 23 songs. For in general this is an altogether splendid offering from artists who know and love this music by one of the greatest of song writers.

Terry Barfoot

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