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Unvergänglichkeit (Permanence)
Michaela Schuster (mezzo-soprano)
Matthias Veit (piano)
rec. 2017, Konzertsaal der Abtei Marienmünster, Germany
Sung texts enclosed but no translations

The title of this collection of German songs by four German-speaking composers emanates from Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s song cycle Unvergänglichkeit, Op 27 to texts by Eleonore van der Straaten (1845-?). The whole cycle, only five songs, is also included in this programme, beginning and concluding with the title song, which also was Korngold’s intention: it is printed twice in the score, and the second stanza is also the motto for the whole programme:

Und Welten sinken in ein Nichts,
die Meere rauschen dumpf und weit,
Deine edlen weissen Hände
sind mir Unvergänglichkeit.

And worlds sink into oblivion,
seas crash, dull, far away;
your precious white hands
are immortal for me.
(Translation quoted from Naxos 8.572027)

The other three songs in the cycle are strategically spread out in the programme as a red thread and the rest of the songs are placed in the six thematic groups that are the building blocks in this programme. The Korngold songs are from various issues, Mahler’s are from Lieder und Gesänge aus der Jugendzeit, Reger’s are from Schlichte Weisen, Op. 76 and Weill’s are from The Unknown Kurt Weill. There are four composer personalities represented here, they have points in common and their lifetimes also partly overlap.

The songs are attractive in themselves, as melodies, and it is nice and entertaining to listen to a few of them without bothering about the contents. But pretty soon, when listening to Michaela Schuster’s care over words and nuances, one starts wondering: what is she singing, what does she want to tell me? And with texts in hand one is brought into fascinating stories, sad, beautiful, humoristic, thought-provoking.

Mahler’s early songs are fairly well-known by now, a few of the texts being from Des Knaben Wunderhorn, which lends also the music a mild folk song character. Phantasie and Frühlingsmorgen
are possibly the cream among those chosen here. The Reger songs are simple and charming, also folk song influenced, for example In einem Rosengärtelein and Klein Marie, while Mausefangen and Zwei Mäuschen are more in the spirit of Hugo Wolf. The Kurt Weill songs were unpublished during his lifetime and Lotte Lenya had kept them locked in until she in 1981 offered them to Teresa Stratas: "nobody can sing Weill's music better than you do". Stratas’s recording became a landmark, and Michaela Schuster has something of the same aptitude for them – and the songs have become almost standard works by now. The Korngold songs are – typical Korngold songs with harmonic and melodic elements that are pronounced his. From having been largely more or less forgotten until a first revival in the early 1970s, he is today established as one of the most individual voices of the first half of the 20th century. Established, I hasten to add, in certain circles. In other circles he is probably still regarded as “more corn than gold”. To me they are definitely gold today – as are actually all the songs on this disc.

In other words: this is a wonderful programme with wonderful songs and Mathias Veit is a wonderful pianist. So is there a hang-up? Yes, there is – and this may be strictly personal. Michaela Schuster is, as I have already intimated, a wonderful story-teller and has a wide pallet of colours and nuances that she employs discriminatingly and tastefully. The problem is the actual quality of the voice. When she sings softly – and she does frequently – hers is a beautiful instrument, and she is very expressive also when in intimate mood. But when she need stronger nuances to make her point, the vibrato tends to widen considerably and the tone becomes harder. I know that people react differently to vocal sounds and that vibrato is a stumbling-block to many. My first reaction was also: what a pity, when she is such a good communicator and she sings so beautifully up to, say, mezzoforte. However, I got used to it and soon realized that her voice is beautiful also when she expands to a forte or fortissimo – even though I sometimes crouch and prefer a tighter sound. There is so much that is wonderfully sung here, but readers who are oversensitive when it comes to vibrato should sample before buying.

Conclusion: if you accept the deficiencies mentioned above, this is a disc that should give enormous pleasure to all lovers of late-romantic German songs.

Göran Forsling

RUHE (Calm)
Erich Wolfgang KORNGOLD (1897 – 1957)
1. Unvergänglichkeit [2:20]
Max REGER (1873 – 1916)
2. Es blüht ein Blümlein rosenrot [2:06]
Gustav MAHLER (1860 – 1911)
3. Phantasie [2:28]
4. Frühlingsmorgen [2:06]
Erich Wolfgang KORNGOLD
5. Sommer [2:55]
UNRUHE (Anxiety)
6. Erinnerung [2:46]
Erich Wolfgang KORNGOLD
7. Das eilende Bächlein [1:44]
8. Dies eine kann mein Sehnen nimmer fassen [2:36]
9. Mond, so gehst du wieder auf [3:46]
Kurt WEILL (1900 – 1950)
10. Wie lange noch [3:30]
KOMMEN UND GEHEN (Coming and Going)
11. Starke Einbildungskraft [0:58]
12. Von der Liebe [2:28]
13. Zwiesprach [1:56]
14. Mei Bua [1:16]
Erich Wolfgang KORNGOLD
15. Gefasster Abschied [3:34]
16. Berlin im Licht [1:45]
17. Nicht wiedersehen! [4:34]
18. In einem Rosengärtelein [2:00]
19. Das schlafende Kind [2:02]
20. Stärker als Tod [1:59]
21. Nannas Lied [3:36]
BEGINNEN UND ENDEN (Beginning and End)
22. Klein Marie [1:22]
23. Mit Rosen bestreut [1:27]
Erich Wolfgang KORNGOLD
24. Liebesbriefchen [2:10]
25. Mausefangen[0:51]
26. Zwei Mäuschen [1:23]
27. Selbstgefühl [1:53]
NÄHE UND FERNE (Near and Far-away)
Erich Wolfgang KORNGOLD
28. Alt-Spanisch [1:36]
29. Der Abschiedsbrief [3:48]
30. Es regnet [3:34]
Erich Wolfgang KORNGOLD
31. Glückwunsch [2:43]
32. Unvergänglichkeit [2:25]
Bonus track:
Erich Wolfgang KORNGOLD
33. Die Gansleber im Hause Duschnitz [3:07]



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