Aureole etc.

Golden Age singers

Nimbus on-line

Faure songs
Charlotte de Rothschild (soprano);

  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett


Hector BERLIOZ (1803-1869)
Zaïde, op.19/1, La captive, op.12, La belle voyageuse, op.2/4*
Gustav MAHLER (1860-1911)

Symphony no.5: Adagietto°
Richard WAGNER (1813-1883)

Wesendonck-Lieder (arr. Hans Werner Henze)*, Siegfried Idyll°
Yvonne Naef (mezzo-soprano)*, Capella Istropolitana*
Pilsen Radio Symphony Orchestra°/David Heer*°
Rec. 26-29 Oct 2002, Moyzes Hall, Bratislava*, Feb 2003, Studio Radio Pilsen°
CLAVES CD 50-2309 [65:46]

This disc offers a number of surprises. The first, perhaps, is that such a mixed vocal-orchestral programme – quite attractive in a concert – should have been assembled on disc at all. Another is that, after a rather squally performance of the lively "Zaïde", the voice often swamped by the over-enthusiastic orchestra, Yvonne Naef comes out with a gorgeously rich tone in the slow melody of "La captive". It would seem that she is gifted with a lustrous timbre which "speaks" rather slowly and which she has difficulty in fining down in music where sharp precision is required. The problem is that this lustrous timbre doesn’t seem to be available to her on tap. We hear it again at times in "Im Treibhaus" and sometimes on individual single notes, but for much of the time it is replaced by something which is strong and well-projected, but a little more ordinary. All the same, the Wagner receives a very fine performance and my reservation is simply that something even more exceptional seems to be waiting to come out.

The next surprise is that David Heer, having acquitted himself with no great refinement or precision in the Berlioz, turns in an exceptionally understanding performance of the Mahler. At 10’ 03" we are not that far from the 8-minute norm of Mengelberg and Walter, light years away from the 14-minute performances we’ve been having recently. A comparison with the Walter shows that the extra two minutes give Heer just that little more breathing space to express the music, which he does with an impressive control of its ebb and flow. Such details as the great downward portamento towards the end testify to the care with which the performance has been prepared. The comparison also shows that the close, airless recording he receives is not much advance on the ancient Walter, though I should add that the Walter, acceptable in this lightly-scored movement, is impossibly constricted elsewhere. Yes, elsewhere; another surprise is that anyone in 2003 should consider recording just this movement, especially when it is done so well as to arouse our curiosity as to how Heer would interpret the complete work.

The next surprise is that the Wesendonck Lieder are sung in an arrangement by Hans Werner Henze. Not all readers may know (since programmes do not always acknowledge this) that the cycle is usually performed in an orchestration by Wagner’s collaborator Felix Mottl (the original is with piano). Since it sounds thoroughly Wagnerian it has gone unchallenged down the years. For much of the time Henze is neither better nor worse, just different, but his essentially intimate conception means that the end of "Stehe still!", grand and brassy in Mottl’s version, comes out somewhat muted. In general Henze’s pointillist string-writing creates a more voluptuous effect, especially in "Schmerzen", if sometimes dangerously close to Mantovani’s "cascading strings". But the real surprise is in "Träume", where the familiar chugging 8th-notes, literally transcribed by Mottl from Wagner’s piano part, are replaced by sliding arpeggios. The effect is so totally different that you might like to use it as a guessing game, and see how many of your friends identify the music before the voice enters.

No great surprises in the Siegfried Idyll, soundly interpreted, decently played but a bit stodgy at times. For those who think this piece lasts about twenty per cent too long, the remedy is at hand in Sir Adrian Boult’s performance which takes 16’ 15" against Heer’s 20’ 38" and never sounds hurried; if you want something more obviously passionate then Furtwängler has his seething textures much in evidence and takes only a few seconds longer than Boult. But even if you prefer a more expansive view (that authoritative Wagnerian Deryck Cooke thought Furtwängler too swift, for example) Heer’s Wagner doesn’t have the distinction of phrasing of his Mahler.

As I said at the beginning, the disc offers a number of surprises, some more welcome than others.

Christopher Howell


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