Die Nacht, Op.10/3
Oh! Quand je dors
Notre amour, Op.23/2
Canción de cuna para dormir a un negrito, Op.4/4
C’est ainsi que tu es
An den Mond, D193
Clair de lune, Op.46/2
Le temps des lilas, Op.19/3
Italienisches Liederbuch – In den Schatten meiner Locken
Abendempfindung an Laura, K523
Measha Brueggergosman (soprano) & Justus Zeyen (piano)
Recorded March 2009 in Teldex Studio, Berlin
Reviewed by: Richard Nicholson
Reviewed: September 2010
CD No: DG 477 8101
Duration: 65 minutes
Measha Brueggergosman first came to international attention when she won the grand prize in the Montreal International competition of 2002, inaugurated at the initiative of “Jeunesses Musicales”. Since then she has judiciously built a promising career, which survived emergency open-heart surgery in summer 2009. The repertoire she has undertaken has been imaginative and adventurous: plenty of twentieth-century and contemporary works, limited and carefully selected operatic roles, though hers is undoubtedly a voice of operatic size. Her initial recordings have included a disc of cabaret songs and the Art-Song repertory represented to date by “Les nuits d’été” and “Wesendonck-Lieder”.
Her originality and prudence are belied by the contents of this release, which is reminiscent of the bitty miscellany of a recital from a distant generation. Sixteen composers are represented in the twenty-one pieces, some very briefly (Brahms, Falla and Warlock in less than two minutes each). The aim seems to be to demonstrate the singer’s versatility in Lied, mélodie, Spanish and English song over two centuries. The songs are largely ‘pops’: those by Brahms, Liszt, Montsalvatge, Hahn, Chausson and Falla are very much the obvious ones to represent those composers, while even when a composer is accorded multiple tracks the choice remains among his most prominent in popularity. It is as if the singer is laying out the full range of her wares for our inspection, an Art-Song sampler disc, as it were. The order is random: songs by one composer are separated and national traditions kept apart.
Brueggergosman’s voice reminds of Jessye Norman, with its slightly veiled quality. There is a prominent vibrato, which will not please everyone, but also a reassuring sense of untapped assets available. The performances are not routine, indeed there is some distinguished singing and playing here. Nevertheless, awarding Hugo Wolf a mere two minutes and six seconds to include a song which is detached from its vital context in “Italienisches Liederbuch” seems a misjudgement.
Lieder find the soprano thoroughly at home linguistically and stylistically. Her comments in the booklet on Schubert are interesting: she confesses to having “a bit of a fear of Schubert because Lieder singers can make everything so precious”. Their interpretation of “Nachtstück” (previously unknown to her, she confides) is suitably fresh and unsophisticated, after the initially solemn scene-setting the music overflows with pious exultation as the old man approaches the moment of death. In Brahms’s “Serenade” an enduring smile can be imagined on the singer’s face, complementing the chuckles from her accompanist’s keyboard. Richard Strauss predictably suits a soprano voice: of this scope. She is girlish in “Die Nacht” and mellow in “Wiegenlied” (Justus Zeyen impeccable here in the arpeggios marked sehr leicht und flüchtig). “Ständchen” is just about the most hackneyed choice she could have made, however.
I have similar misgivings about the melodies. Debussy is represented by an early Massenet-style salon song, not something from his maturity nor one with a particularly demanding tessitura. It receives a strong performance. Musically Brueggergosman’s legato and breath-control are admirable, interpretatively she brings out the antithesis between wholehearted rejoicing in the fulfilment of youth and awareness of death by skilful handling of dynamics and tone-colour. The two Duparc pieces are well contrasted. The two artists choose a tempo for “Chanson triste” which keeps the song moving without sacrificing any of its melancholy. The subtle adjustments of tempo reflect the poet’s emotional ebb and flow, between consolation and exhilaration. The surprise high A flats for the voice at “mon amour” and “tant de baisers” arguably sit better in a less vibrant voice. In “Phidylé”, by contrast, the expansive spread of the voice is an advantage in the swelling erotic anticipation as that song moves towards its climax. Brueggergosman is equally successful in the weightless opening. The fast-moving word-setting of “Notre amour” taxes the singer, who is more at home in the quasi-improvisatory lines given to the voice in “Clair de lune” , where her partnership with the essential melody contained in the accompaniment is impressive. Their interpretation of the Chausson emphasises the Wagner connection, the two climaxes hurled out with a full head of dramatic soprano steam. The Poulenc is a mile away but shows what these artists can do with more-elusive material: the steady tempo seems ideally chosen to portray the poet’s languid reflection on the end of an affair, the singer in command of the wide-ranging tessitura.
“Oh! quand je dors”, performed in the original version, finds the soprano’s voice fuller and darker. Here she adds another qualification to her credentials as she emphasises and excels in the Italianate features of Liszt’s setting: the ternary structure with harmonic points in the second verse emphasised, the melismas in the vocal line, the extended coda and cadenza. Her voice supports the slow weighty phrases with assurance.
There are just a few unexpected rewards in the Iberian repertory. The only nod in the direction of contemporary music, crossover and the enterprise which characterises Brueggergosman’s career is the arrangement of a love-song by the leading composer and performer of Brazilian popular music, Francis Hime. No text is provided but some searching on the Internet will throw up the Portuguese lyrics and the composer has his own website, for which a version in English can be selected. The song is a reflection on the aftermath of a failed love-affair, wistfully treated at first, then passionately in an up-tempo section. A piano interlude follows before the singer returns, fading gradually into the distance, repeating the message of resigned acceptance. After several auditions of this song I became increasingly enamoured of it.
Brueggergosman states in the booklet interview that she has studied ‘world music’ and that she is all in favour of making sounds that are not part of Western culture. That perhaps explains the breathy crooning with which she delivers “Anoiteceu”. Elsewhere she gives Falla’s lullaby a most individual sound by constantly squeezing volume out of the held notes.
The partnership of soprano and pianist is creative and fruitful throughout. The recording is suitably wide-ranging and catches all sides of the singer’s personality. Now I hope we can anticipate more specific projects: the Schumann cycles, for example.