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Franz LISZT (1811-1886)
Die Loreley S. 273/2 [6:07]
Freudvoll und leidvoll S. 280/1 [2:17]
Es war ein König in Thule S. 278/2 [2:50]
Im Rhein, im schönen Strome S. 272/2 [2:52]
Freudvoll und Leidvoll S. 280/2 [3:10]
Über allen Gipfeln ist Ruh S. 306/2 [3:52]
Hector BERLIOZ (1803-1869)
Les Nuits d’été, Op. 7 H. 81A [29:05]
Tristia, Op. 18: II. La Mort d’Ophélie Op. 18 No. 2 H. 92A [6:11]
Richard WAGNER (1813 – 1883)
Wesendonck-Lieder WWV 91 [19:23]
Stéphanie d’Oustrac (mezzo-soprano), Pascal Jourdan (piano)
rec. 2018, Teldex Studio, Berlin
Sung texts and translations in German, French and English
HARMONIA MUNDI HMM902621 [75:57]

The three composers represented on this disc were roughly contemporaries, they were among the most influential of their time and they knew each other well, even though their attitudes to each other differed from time to time. One can say that Liszt was a kind of uniting factor. He met Berlioz more or less regularly during three and a half decade, he was closely connected with Wagner and became his father-in-law. The relation between Wagner and Berlioz was more problematic and sometimes frosty, but still it is remarkable that at a time when communication was a much more complicated and time-consuming thing than today they could uphold their relations. Whether they influenced each other is a moot point. They were too much individualists and art song wasn’t quite the central field for any of them, even though Liszt wrote some 70 songs, but when we take into account that he revised a lot of them, several so thoroughly that they must be regarded as originals, there are well over one hundred. The six recorded here are among his best known and have claims to be rated among the best in the German lied oeuvre. A personal favourite is Über allen Gipfeln (tr. 6), which is worthy to stand beside Schubert’s famous setting of the same Goethe poem. It should be remembered that Liszt set poems in other languages as well: French, Italian, English and Hungarian. As for the singing I’m not fully satisfied. Stéphanie d’Oustrac has a fine voice and she is expressive and keen with the words, but she has a habit to start a long note vibrato-less, which produces a hooting sound, then gradually allowing the vibrato to widen. The effect of this is a momentary impression of her singing slightly under the note.

This is less prominent in the Berlioz songs, and it may have to do with the language and possibly with her early career as a baroque singer, where a minimum of vibrato was called for, working extensively with William Christie and other baroque specialists. Les Nuits d’été is most commonly heard with orchestral accompaniment but the cycle was originally composed for voice and piano, and it works well in that version too. It is a well-balanced reading, sensitively sung with fine nuances. Le Spectre de la rose is sung in a somewhat grander manner than one usually hears, but it is utterly becoming. And she scores greatly with her brilliance in Sur les lagunes. Pascal Jourdan’s accompaniments are excellent and one doesn’t miss the orchestra too much. All in all a very attractive version of this ever fascinating cycle.

La Mort d’Ophélie, less often heard but a very attractive song – or more correctly perhaps a ballad or a scene – was also originally set for voice and piano. It is a welcome addition to this disc.

Returning to German I was initially a bit worried about the hooting tendency mentioned at the beginning of the disc. This concerned Der Engel, where the vibrato occasionally is too wide for comfort. But Stehe still is very sensitively sung with wonderful piano accompaniment. Im Treibhaus is finely nuanced and the concluding Schmerzen and Träume are very satisfying, the last named with its premonition of Tristan und Isolde. Denis Herlin’s liner notes are valuable and the disc as a whole, in spite of a few objections, is a valuable addition to the discography of these oft-recorded songs.

Göran Forsling

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