of Brahms’ Die schöne Magelone are few and far between
and they are rarities in the concert halls too. As Eric Malson
says in his notes, this is not due to the quality of the music
but rather that the songs do not constitute a satisfying cycle
in themselves. When integrated into Ludwig Tieck’s novella they
can also seem unwieldy. This has been done, however, both in
concert and on discs. I seem to remember a Hermann Prey recording
on Orfeo some twenty years ago. I believe Fischer-Dieskau also
recorded them that way. This would, however imply an extra CD
and that is an extravagance no record company would indulge
in today. The songs are in Brahms’ finest vein and are also
enjoyable when heard separately. They offer many opportunities
to pick and choose; one will not always want to listen to them
straight through. On these grounds this disc should be an attractive
addition to anyone’s lieder collection, provided the performances
young American tenor Paul Mow makes a brave effort with these
not always easy-to-bring-off songs and he is excellently partnered
by Eric Malson. The piano has a little too much air around it
in the obviously generous acoustics of New York’s Town Hall,
resulting in a somewhat hazy sound. However the venue was probably
chosen to suit the singer’s voice, which is at least halfway
into the heldentenor fach. He has already taken on roles such
as Don José, Bacchus in Ariadne auf Naxos, Max in Der
Freischütz and even Tristan. These are not the credentials
one expects of a Brahms singer, even though many of his predecessors
have also sung Lieder, sometimes with excellent results: Swedish
Wagnerian Helge Brilioth, for example. Further back in history
both Lauritz Melchior and Leo Slezak sang lieder, the latter
especially with great success.
Mow isn’t exactly in this league as yet. His is certainly a
voice with dramatic potential but for the time being he does
not have it under ideal control. It has a pinched quality up
on high and at forte; even below, his tone tends to coarsen.
There is no denying a certain thrill as in the dramatic So
tönet denn, schäumende Wellen (tr. 10) where Malson provides
excellent ‘foaming waves’. There is power in abundance but a
lack of refinement. His German isn’t faultless either, some
vowels disturbingly occluded. Listen to his open ‘a’ as in ‘alle’
which is more like the English ‘a’ in ‘all’.
the other hand he can scale down to beautiful lyricism and there
are several songs that are sung softly and with a fine inward
quality: Durch die Dämmerung (tr. 3), especially the
second stanza, is one instance. Ruhe, Süssliebchen, im Schatten
(tr. 9) also seems deeply felt. Fortunately there are enough
songs that belong in this category to make the disc worthwhile.
In general however there is too little variation in tone and
expression, which makes the end-result rather two-dimensional;
a rough-hewn charcoal-drawing as opposed to shimmering water-colours.
Some of the best singing, comes in the last song Treue Liebe
dauert lange where, if not a full-colour aquarelle, one
can easily imagine a mezzo-tint.
intentions, no doubt, and one day Mow might be a consummate
lieder artist. Had I encountered this performance in a recital
hall I would probably have been quite satisfied. A disc that
one is supposed to hear over and over again is a different matter.
When scrutinizing the singing through a reviewer’s magnifying
glass expectations are only partly fulfilled.
texts and translations into English and there are artists’ bios
and personal notes from both artists.