This is Volume 5 in Hyperion’s continuing series of recordings of the Brahms songs which represent a substantial proportion of the composer’s output. This volume, however, is unique, since Die schöne Magelone
is the only song-cycle he created. The Four Serious Songs
form a cohesive collection but they were not conceived as a cycle.
These songs are by no means well known. They were based upon a sequence of narrative poems (1797) by Johann Ludwig Tieck (1773–1853), interspersing prose and poetry. They deal with the story of Peter of Provence, a medieval knight who fell in love with Magelone, who was the daughter of the King of Naples. Their relationship was disrupted when he became lost during a Mediterranean sea voyage and was dragged off as a slave by his Moslem captors.
Brahms suggested the option of performing this substantial hour-long cycle of songs with attendant readings of the related prose. This would make for a long evening in more senses than one. Perhaps therefore this Hyperion issue offers the best of both worlds: the songs well performed on disc with the supporting material gathered in the booklet. The latter is beautifully produced although, to gain benefit from it, the reader may need a magnifying glass to hand in addition to reading glasses. The poems are provided in the original German side by side with English translations. The prose sections are in English only.
The partnership of Graham Johnson - who, as ever, provides the lucid liner-notes - and Christopher Maltman would be hard to better. They sound well and their performance is beautifully shaped in its ebb and flow, an important consideration in any song cycle. Maltman colours his voice skilfully as he represents the different protagonists in the story.
This Volume 5 is an important addition to the Brahms discography and continues and complements the admirable traditions already established by the earlier outings in Hyperion's handsomely delivered series: Angelika Kirchschlager (CDJ33121), Christine Schäfer (CDJ33122), neither reviewed here as yet, Simon Bode (CDJ33123
) and Robert Holl (CDJ33124