BBC Legends – Arleen Augér & Dalton Baldwin

0 of 5 stars

Widmung, Op.25/1; Röselein, Röselein!, Op.89/6; Er ist’s, Op.79/23; Des Sennen Abschied, Op.79/22; Mignon, Op.79/28; Singet nicht in Trauertönen, Op.98a/7
Frühlingsglaube, D686; Der Schmetterling, D633; Nacht und Träume, D827; Claudine von Villa Bella, D239 – Liebe schwärmt auf allen Wegen; Erster Verlust, D226; Gretchen am Spinnrade, D118
Vier Lieder, Op.2
Das Rosenband, Op.36/1; Mohnblumen, Op.22/2; Die Zeitlose, Op.10/7; Efeu, Op.22/3; Freundliche Vision, Op.48/1; Her Lenz, Op.37/5
Heidenröslein, D257
The Serpent

Arleen Augér (soprano) & Dalton Baldwin (piano)

Recorded on 2 January 1987 in BBC Studios, Pebble Mill, Birmingham

Reviewed by: John T. Hughes

Reviewed: June 2007
BBCL 4214-2
Duration: 66 minutes

Arleen Augér once told me that she had placed the acute accent on the ‘e’ in her surname so that people would pronounce it in the French way rather than the German, adding that years later she removed it because “nobody took any notice”. Also acute was the sense of loss engendered in her many admirers by her death from cancer in 1993 at the age of 53.

Fortunately, the record companies did not neglect her. In his booklet note, Mike Ashman points out that she made some 200 recordings, but that number does not make this BBC recital any less welcome, even though one is directed to a website for texts and translations. (What a pity the BBC could not pay to have them printed in the booklet, especially as it pays millions to not very talented television performers.)

Four ‘S’ composers fill the main programme, beginning with the six Schumann songs. What a happy little group they make, benefiting, of course, from Augér’s poised singing with its subtle modulations of volume and tonal weight. “Röselein, Röselein!” is caressed dulcetly: so intimately, so charmingly that the tiny break as the voice rises on the first syllable of the second ‘Röselein’ at the beginning is as nothing. Just as delightful is “Des Sennen Abschied”, with Augér providing slight variations of emphasis above Dalton Baldwin’s playing of the little figurations in the piano accompaniment. “Singet nicht in Trauertönen” bubbles along like a chuckling stream.

Schubert comes next, with “Frühlingsglaube”, in which Baldwin’s soft playing is eloquent, preceding the lightly flittering “Der Schmetterling”. In “Nacht und Träume”, one of the great songs, Augér’s vibrato is not under complete control in the opening line, but she notices and immediately closes the tone enough to rectify matters. She spans the long phrases with her tone slightly thinner than it has been so far. The ensuing piece from ‘Claudine’, an unfinished opera, is given a fuller, rounder sound, and there is a delicious moment when she carries the voice into the reprise of the first line (at 45 seconds in). It is a little touch that should be savoured. Then a more serious affair comes with the sad “Erster Verlust”, in which Augér almost imperceptibly fines down her tone and subtly withdraws some of its colour in the last 50 seconds or so. Even without the words to hand, one is made aware of the sense of the song. That, ladies and gentlemen, is great singing in a piece of just two minutes’ duration.

Schoenberg’s “Vier Lieder” of 1899 have the lyricism that needs singing rather than declamation, especially the first one, and Augér supplies it. How skilfully she reduces her voice almost to a whisper in ‘Schenk mir deinen goldenen Kamm’, and she applies effective shading to ‘Erhebung’ and brings exultant tone to the very short ‘Waldsonne’.

Of the Richard Strauss half-dozen I like “Die Zeitlose”, sung with crystalline purity as a reverie, touchingly, and just as sensitive is “Efeu”. Technical mastery is used not to show off but to enhance a song. Starting at 1’45” into “Freundliche Vision”, Augér sings, in one breath, a line that lasts for 24 seconds, and how it helps the shape of the song as well as its meaning and feeling.

Two encores were given: a charmingly sung “Heidenröslein” and Lee Hoiby’s “The Serpent”, the one diversion from the German Lied. Both artists let down their hair as Augér recounts the tale of the serpent who liked to sing and Baldwin roams resoundingly through the jazzy accompaniment. It shows another side of Arleen Augér.

The sound is very clear, as one would expect. I do wish, however, that BBC Legends would include texts in the booklet: not everybody has access to websites.

I hope that those responsible will market this splendid CD well, for it deserves to be heard by all lovers of fine singing, and all lovers of fine singing deserve to hear it.

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