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Josef Gabriel RHEINBERGER (1839-1901)
Die Wasserfee, Op.21 (1869) [6:43]
Aus verborgnem Tal, Op.136 (1883) [37:25]
Am Seegestade, Op.158 (1888-89) [26:59]
Lockung, Op.25 (1858) [4:24]
Lydia Teuscher (soprano); Christine Müller (mezzo); Andreas Weller (tenor); Klaus Häger (baritone); Götz Payer (piano)
rec. September 2012, SWR Kammermusikstudio, Stuttgart
Texts and translations included
CARUS 83.376 [75:45]

Rheinberger’s reputation rests largely on his choral and organ music but he also wrote a large body of songs, many of which volumes are little known today. Eleven lied collections were published between 1862 and 1890, containing over one hundred songs.

He was perhaps wise to hedge his bets, however, as the title page of Die Wasserfee and Lockung both authorise performance by solo singers or by choral forces. In this disc both these works, which have been recorded before, are sung by solo singers, SATB. The other two works, which are long cycles, are sung by baritone and tenor soloists and heard in premiere recordings. Rheinberger’s aesthetic in these settings was openly old-fashioned, and emotionally largely unambiguous. Though written in the last decades of the nineteenth-century they show no concordances with the songs of his eminent contemporaries, hearkening back instead to the kind of single-mood strophic settings that were popular in the 1820s and are, by and large, untouched by Schubert’s examples.

The song that lends its name to the album title, Die Wasserfee, Op.21 is based on a poem by Hermann Lingg in which the unceasing arpeggios in the piano support the vocal quartet in a way that perhaps recalls Mendelssohn. The writing is attractively elegant and flowing. Lockung, the other SATB setting has pleasing symmetry. Aus verborgnem Tal is written for baritone and piano, and sets the poetry of Rheinberger’s wife, Fanny, writing under her husband’s full surname, Franziska von Hoffnaass. Completed in 1883 these are nature settings enshrining some clear textual autobiographical allusions, and some that might be thought to allude to Winterreise, at least in the sense of the confluence of nature and loss. The narrator’s recollection of his dead sister is elevated and noble though neither overtly melancholic nor tinged with melodrama. Piano postludes – there are not too many – are invariably warm. The temper of the music-making is similarly even-keeled deepening appropriately in the final setting with culminatory reflective intimacy. Klaus Häger sings with phrasal sensitivity. Once or twice, especially early on, his voice sounds a little tired, though I wondered if this was an expressive device.

The other previously unrecorded cycle is Am Seegestade, Op.158, his last lied cycle of 1888-89, again settings of his wife’s poetry. They occupy a genially unruffled strophic world, sweetly nostalgic and attractive. None of the settings is interested in exploring penetrating psychological insight but of melodic richness there is no shortage. The penultimate setting, called simply Melodie, is one of the most richly beautiful in both cycles and though the poetry is tinged with nostalgic sadness, the music confers mellifluous comfort. It’s perhaps worth noting that the most overtly dramatic music is the last setting which clearly alludes to the death of Ludwig II of Bavaria in 1886. Andreas Weller sings attractively and, as throughout, pianist Götz Payer plays with adroit sensitivity. The elegance of the performances supports the refined elegance of the compositions.

Jonathan Woolf