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Christian Gerhaher: Romantic Arias
Richard WAGNER (1818-1883)
Tannhäuser: Blick ich umher in diesen edlen Kreise [6:09]
Wie Todesahnung... O du men holder Abendstern [6:24]
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Der Graf von Gleichen: O Himmel... Men Weib, o Gott, mein süßer Knabe [6:43]
Alfonso und Estrella: Sie mir gegrüßt, o Sonne [8:47]
O sing mir, Vater... Der Jäger ruhte hingegossen [7:14]*
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Genoveva: Ja, wart’ du bis zum jüngsten Tag [10:59]*
Otto NICOLAI (1810-1849)
Der Heumkehr des Verbannten: Norton! Du bist es, der mit Frevler-Wut [7:11]*
Carl Maria von WEBER (1786-1826)
Euryanthe: Wo berg’ ich mich?... So weih’ich mich den Rachgewalten [8:41]
Christian Gerhaher (baritone)
*Maximilian Schmitt (tenor)
Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra/Daniel Harding
rec. 19-24 March 2012, Herkulessaal der Residenz, Munich
SONY CLASSICS 88725422952 [62:01]

 

 
Christian Gerhaher’s song recital discs have received ecstatic plaudits from many sources, including me. This is his very first disc of operatic arias and it’s every bit as exciting as his lieder discs, though, revealing even more of this unique singer’s skill and artistry.
 
As with his Ferne Geliebte disc, one of the most interesting things about Romantic Arias is the choice of repertoire. I expect that most listeners will be familiar only with the extracts from Tannhäuser. Gerhaher and Harding have plundered the lesser-known corners of the German repertoire to give us a collection which, in the words of the booklet note, “takes its cue from the musical quality, rather than the popularity, of the pieces in question”. It’s revealing and interesting, and it whets the appetite of the listener to discover more. Schubert, for example, always had a troubled relationship with opera, but the extracts from the two operas represented here are worth more than a second listen, especially when interpreted by such masterful musicians. The count in Schubert’s Graf von Gleichen burns with yearning for his home and family in an aria encompassing both longing and fear, twin emotions which Gerhaher inhabits to the full. The numbers from Alfonso und Estrella are just as successful, not least the bewitching invocation to nature which opens Sie mir gegrüßt, o Sonne, and Gerhaher’s celebrated skill with words helps to enliven what could be the otherwise pedestrian narration of Der Jäger ruhte hingegossen.
 
The singer still has that exceptional beauty of tone. Gerhaher is possessed of one of the finest lyrical baritones at work in this or any age. He has a gentle smoothness to his voice that can be alluring and incredibly seductive, even in repertory that can sometimes appear turgid. Wolfram’s invocation from Act 2 of Tannhäuser has never sounded so attractive: I forgot the sometimes tortuous wordplay in the face of such beautiful sound. This is a Wolfram I could listen to again and again, and the Abendstern solo is wonderfully poetic. No-one who heard him sing Wolfram in the Royal Opera’s 2012 Tannhäuser will forget it in a hurry, and his beauty of tone, combined with his insight into the text, means that, in the words of another commentator, the listener feels that he is in touch with Wolfram’s innermost thoughts.
 
Even more compelling, however, is the intensity with which Gerhaher appears to have considered every single phrase. It’s often said – rightly – that Gerhaher approaches opera with a lieder-singer’s ear for detail, and it’s this that makes his performances live and breathe in a way that lifts them into the realm of the very special. Listen, for example, to the recitative that begins the excerpt from Genoveva: it never drags or stumbles, but Gerhaher uses the words to compel the music along, giving us a real impression of action unfolding on stage, in this case Siegfried saddling his horse to ride home. In that paragraph Gerhaher captures all the excitement and anticipation of a man bound for home, but he does so in a way that is lyrical and compelling in the extreme. This, however, is only the start of the drama, because (false) news arrives, via one of the disc’s brief but beautiful contributions from the excellent Maximilian Schmitt, of Genoveva’s adultery. This throws Siegfried into a tumult of dismay and regret which finally gives way to determination to visit a local sorceress to find the truth. Gerhaher immerses himself in every aspect of the scene, from elation to despair and everything in between. It’s compelling in the extreme, beautifully sung and dramatically realised. For this track alone this CD would be worth its purchase price.
 
In that scene from Genoveva you can hear exactly when the turning point comes – joy begins to turn to suspicion with the phrase “Da hackt ein Rab am Fenster” – and Gerhaher’s vocal colour changes audibly to accommodate it. This, though, is only one example of a time where Gerhaher’s skill with words brings the disc to life. Most of the arias on the disc, such as that from Genoveva, chart a character’s journey from one emotion to another. This gives Gerhaher a good opportunity to demonstrate how good he is at owning and communicating a different series of moods. You can hear this again in the well phrased Nicolai number when Edmund moves from seeking revenge to suppressing the urge, or in Lysiart’s aria of vengeance from Euryanthe which brings the disc to a storming close.
 
The orchestral playing is first rate too, and it’s particularly impressive the way Daniel Harding gets the Bavarian RSO to shade down their sound in the Schubert numbers so that the strings even sound as though they were playing on authentic instruments. The instrumental solos, such as the cello in the Nicolai number, are always beguiling, and the colour and verve of the orchestra’s playing has every bit as good a contribution to make to the success of this disc.
 
It’s three more cheers for this disc then, an exciting, beautiful and enlightening journey through early German Romantic opera with one of that period’s finest vocal exponents. Had this come my way earlier, I would probably have made it one of my discs of 2012.
 
Simon Thompson
 

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