Benjamin Appl (baritone)
James Baillieu (piano)
rec. 2016/17, Studio 1, Bayerische Rundfunk, Munich SONY CLASSICAL 88985393032 [66:54]
Bavarian Benjamin Appl appeared at Lake District Summer Music in Cumbria last month where at Kendal I heard him sing in a recital performing Schubert’s Winterreise very compellingly and in a separate recital he also performed Barber’s Dover Beach with the Villiers Quartet. Formerly a chorister at the renowned Regensburger Domspatzen, Appl studied at Hochschule für Musik und Theater München and Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London.
Having owned and reviewed numerous solo recital albums over the years I have seldom encountered any with a programme as broad as this one from Benjamin Appl. It’s an impressive release comprising of twenty-five art songs mainly lieder with eighteen in the German language, six with English text and a single French setting. Fourteen composers are represented and, as one might expect from a German performer, Schubert has the lion’s share with six songs. It is certainly a mix of established works and lesser known, with me hearing the Reger, Schreker and Adolf Strauss songs for the first time. Surprisingly there are no works by Schumann or Mahler included.
Each song in Appl’s themed collection is intended to have a connection to the German title Heimat which here basically means homeland, embodying a sense of spiritual roots, attachment and belonging. Appl has divided his programme into eight themed sections ‘Prologue’, ‘Roots’, ‘Locations’, ‘People’, ‘On the Road’, ‘Yearning’, ‘Without Frontiers’ and ‘Epilogue’. All are songs that Appl states “are part of my journey through life.” Certainly the selection of songs cover a broad range of emotions from say the yearning loneliness of Schubert’s ‘Das Heimweh’ to Poulenc’s brief but upbeat and colourful ‘Hyde Park’ to the homespun, warm cosiness of Brahms’s ‘Wiegenlied’ and Bishop’s ‘Home, Sweet Home’.
Appl impresses consistently throughout his journey; however there are three songs that stand out for the responsiveness and innate sensitivity of performance. In Schubert’s ‘Seligkeit’ Appl conveys an uplifting level of Viennese whimsicality and in the same composer’s ‘Nachtstück’ he captures the heavy, world weary resonance of the texts quite marvellously. Out of the group of English songs Vaughan Williams’ renowned ‘Silent Noon’ is notable for the tender expression, high on reflection, which Appl communicates very convincingly. Appl’s light and attractive baritone is easily produced without strain, containing a satisfying degree of tone colour and he demonstrates a natural affinity for the texts. Compared to the great masters of lieder singing such as Hans Hotter, Elisabeth Schwarzkopf and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, one area for improvement, especially noticeable in the English songs, is Appl’s often mediocre enunciation of word endings. Praise is due to pianist James Baillieu who accompanies Appl with an elevated quality that is unerring.
Recorded at Bavarian Broadcasting, Munich, the sound engineers have provided excellent clarity and, balance the voice and piano ideally. Sony sets a model example by providing sung texts with English translations and there are also a couple of short articles by Appl and an essay ‘Heimat by Neil MacGregor.
This is an engagingly performed album from baritone Benjamin Appl that deserves considerable acclaim.
1. Seligkeit, D 433 [1:52] Roots
2. Des Kindes Gebet, op. 76/22 [1:38] Hugo WOLF (1860-1903)
3. Er ist’s, [1:23] Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
4. Wiegenlied, op. 49/4 [1:55] Locations
5. Der Einsame, D 800 [4:19] Johannes BRAHMS
6. Mondnacht, WoO 21 [2:51] Franz SCHREKER (1878-1934)
7. Waldeinsamkeit, [3:06] People Johannes BRAHMS
8. Mein Mädel hat einen Rosenmund, [1:57] Hugo WOLF
9. Verschwiegene Liebe, [2:23] Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949)
10. Allerseelen, op. 10/8 [3:08] Franz SCHUBERT
11. Nachtstück, D 672 [6:02] On the Road 12. Drang in die Ferne, D 770 [3:34]
13. Der Wanderer an den Mond, D 870 [2:17] Adolf STRAUSS (1902-1944)
14. Ich weiß bestimmt, ich werd’ dich widdersehen, [3:51] Franz SCHUBERT Yearning 15. Das Heimweh, D 456 [1.22]
16. Der Wanderer, D 489 [5.16] Without Frontiers
Francis POULENC (1899-1963)
17. Hyde Park, FP 127/2 [0:48] Benjamin BRITTEN (1913-1976)
18. Greensleeves, [2:05] Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS (1872-1958)
19. Silent Noon, [4:00] Henry Rowley BISHOP (1786-1855)
20. Home, Sweet Home, [3:11] Peter WARLOCK (1894-1930)
21. My Own Country, [2:17]
22. The Bachelor, [0:50] John IRELAND (1879-1962)
23. If There Were Dreams to Sell, [2:24] Epilogue
Edvard GRIEG (1843-1907)
24. An das Vaterland, op. 58/2 [1:55]
25. Ein Traum, op. 48/6 [2:30]