Franz LISZT (1811–1886)
Angiolin dal biondo crin (1st version)* [5:45]
Die Lorelei (1st version)* [6:45]
La Loreley (3rd version) [7:13]
Sonetto del Petrarca: Pace non trovo [6:59], Benedetto sia ‘I giorni [6:50], I’vidi in terra angelici costume [6:02]
Quand ntu chantes bercée* [4:56]
Jeanne d’Arc au bűcher (1st version)* [8:31]
Wenn die letzten Sterne bleichen (op. posth.)* [1:38]
Vergiftet sind meine Lieder (1st version)* [2:20]
Die tote Nachtigall [4:43]
Benjamin Brecher (tenor), Robert Koenig (piano)
rec. December 2013, Hahn Hall, Music Academy of the West, Santa Barbara, California
* World Premiere Recordings
Sung texts with English translations enclosed
MSR CLASSICS MS1538 [67:30]
It seems that there is an increasing interest in Liszt’s songs to judge from the number of discs entirely devoted to them. I am eagerly looking forward to the next instalment in Hyperion’s complete cycle, which so far encompasses four volumes. How many there will be is hard to know but the total number of songs seems to be 127. That doesn’t imply that there are 127 different songs, since Liszt went back and revised many of them, often quite extensively, and sometimes so radically that they must be regarded as new songs. Dr. Michael Vitalino in his liner notes states that “Since many musicians view composers’ revised versions as their ‘final draft’, these revised publications tend to be the favoured choices for performance. Although it is true that the later versions occasionally correct compositional faults, they also often lack some of the virtuosic and improvisational features of the originals. For this reason, one should not be too quick to dismiss a composer’s first version for a subsequent revision.” Dr. Vitalino also points out that one reason for the present situation is the difficulty of finding the music. Many of the early versions are long out of print and have probably not been performed since the 19th century. Forgotten Liszt is an attempt to save some of them from oblivion and hopefully stimulate other singers to programme them in their recitals. No fewer than six of the songs on this disc are World Premiere Recordings. Possibly some of them may have been recorded again since December 2013 when this disc was made. Certainly none of the six are included on the four first volumes of the Hyperion project which eventually will encompass every single song in every possible version. So, for the time being, this disc will be of great interest to Liszt enthusiasts – provided the presentation is good.
The documentation is admirable. Dr. Vitalino writes at length on every song in the order they are played, and the texts are printed in the booklet with line by line translations into English. There are also extensive bios on the artists. We learn that Benjamin Brecher is a much sought after tenor with more than 50 operatic roles in his backpack – many of them in bel canto repertoire – and he is also a busy concert singer and recording artist. His singing on this disc is polished and nuanced as can be heard in the opening song, Angiolin dal biondo crin¸ the first version, from 1839, which is believed to be Liszt's very first attempt at song-writing. It is a beautiful piece of music, more a bel canto aria than the lullaby for his daughter it was intended to be. Two versions of Die Lorelei follow, this poem by Heine obviously triggering Liszt. He also made transcriptions for piano and arranged it for orchestra. The original version from 1841 has similarities with Schubert’s Erlkönig, as Dr. Vitalino points out. His last version, published in 1883, is a variant in French, translated by Gustave Samzeuilh. It is fascinating to compare the two, separated by more than 40 years, and note how Liszt adds material and makes changes.
The three Petrarch sonnets are among Liszt’s grandest creations in this genre and require a voice of the same dimensions. Benjamin Brecher is not quite up to the mark here. He is often sensitive and nuanced but sometimes he over-stretches his vocal resources and becomes strained.
The beautiful Elégie has some melodic similarities with the last of the Petrarch sonnets. It is a variant of a song written in 1841 but revised three years later and then fitted with a new poem. It is sensitively sung and it is a pity it has not been heard more often, this is due to being out of print for more than a century. Even more unavailable was the Hugo setting Quand tu chantes bercee, composed in 1842 but not appearing in print until 1974. As Benjamin Brecher sings it here it should tempt many singers to adopt it.
The big and dramatic Jeanne d’Arc, setting a text of Alexandre Dumas, is attacked wholeheartedly and intensely by Brecher and one must admire his stamina, but sometimes he is over the top.
The beautiful Wenn die letzten Sterne bleichen was composed in 1843 for Count Franz Pocci and the manuscript remained in the family archives until 1992. This is another example of the world being denied wonderful music for ages and we are lucky it has been brought to light. Vergiftet sind meine Lieder is another of the songs Liszt returned to several times. This is the original, an intense lament. The encore, so to speak, is Die tote Nachtigall in the version from 1879. It was once recorded by Erna Berger on an early LP. But on Vol. 4 of the Hyperion cycle, recorded in December 2014 Sasha Cooke sings the same version. It is beautifully sung here too at mezza voce.
There are some places here where Benjamin Brecher overestimates his vocal resources but generally he is well-behaved and sensitive. His experienced accompanist delivers excellent support and the recording is first-class. A largely attractive disc with several rarities. Liszt aficionados will need this.