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.